Opinion: Cade Cunningham's re-commitment is ray of light for Oklahoma State athletics
The loyal and true from Oklahoma State have had a rough few weeks.
It started June 5 when the NCAA handed down crippling sanctions on the men's basketball program that threw a promising season into question. Then came a shirtstorm within the football program, dividing head coach and players and fans and leaving questions about the future that have yet to be answered.
So much promise for OSU athletics seemed to go poof.
But Monday morning brought a reprieve.
A 6-foot-7 ray of light.
Cade Cunningham still wants to be a Cowboy. Even as the men’s basketball program faces the possibility of a postseason ban in 2021, the top recruit in the entire country and the potential top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft announced via Twitter he will be coming to OSU anyway.
“Loyalty — it’s more than a word,” he said in a video. “It’s action. It’s standing by the people you started with. It’s showing up even when times are hard. It’s believing in the people who always believed in you.”
As he talked, images flashed of Cunningham entering a gym, lacing up his shoes.
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Then as the point guard said, “It’s commitment,” the camera panned up to show what was on the front of his shirt.
OKLAHOMA STATE BASKETBALL.
“Now, more than ever, I’m loyal and true,” he continued. “I’m committed.”
Nobody needed good news more than OSU — and this bordered on extraordinary.
Just a few weeks ago, Cunningham remaining a Cowboy seemed unlikely. When OSU was hit with harsh NCAA penalties stemming from former assistant coach Lamont Evans accepting brides to influence players, you figured Cunningham would bolt. So, too, might the rest of the players in a recruiting class that is arguably best OSU has ever had.
Why would they stick with the Cowboys if they couldn’t play in the NCAA Tournament?
Why wouldn’t they find somewhere with less uncertainty?
Getting them to commit to OSU was difficult, but getting them to re-commit them might've been even tougher.
“I don't know if it's unfair to say it's more significant partly because there is a lot of opportunity right now for these guys to be pulled in different directions,” Cowboy coach Mike Boynton said Monday afternoon. “And then any sign of negativity or things not being as comfortable usually causes most people look in another direction.”
Boynton believes the fact every signee is keeping their commitment — even though incoming big man Montreal Pena hasn't made a formal announcement, Boynton believes he is coming, too — is a reflection on those players.
“Credit to the kids and their parents for instilling in them true values of commitment and making sure that they understand you give your word to somebody, you stick with it unless there's something catastrophic,” he said.
“I would say this maybe fell just short of catastrophic, but it was pretty close.”
OSU is appealing the NCAA’s ruling. It might triumph, but it might not. The penalties may well stand. Or the appeal may drag out and not be resolved until sometime late in the year. Could be after the academic year starts. Could even be after the basketball season gets underway.
Boynton didn't hide any of that uncertainty from the players
Still, OSU managed to keep not only Cunningham but also nearly all of the returning and incoming players. Returning big guys Yor Anei and Hidde Roessink have announced their intentions to transfer, but only a couple weeks after the sanctions were announced, everyone else is in the Cowboys’ corral.
The biggest shocker was Cunningham.
He had all sorts of options. Boynton even joked Monday that he had fewer options than Cunningham. He could’ve had his pick of programs. If he wanted to go somewhere else, even when most rosters are full, any college team would’ve found a spot for him. The blue bloods. The up and comers. Wherever he wanted to go, he could’ve gone.
And if Cunningham wanted to say, “To heck with college basketball,” the NBA G League was ready and waiting.
Even as other signees said they were sticking with their commitments last week, Cunningham was in question. Would he really stick with the Cowboys?
Indeed, he would.
It’s a huge moment for Boynton and his program. Huge, too, for OSU athletics. Even though we may not have seen the end of headlines involving the football program, the re-commitment of these basketball players has been a bridge over troubled waters.
Getting Cunningham's re-commitment is a feel-good moment at a time those have been in short supply.
“Stillwater,” Cunningham said at the end of his Twitter video, “let’s work.”
The work will come, but for now, Cowboy fans will take some time to celebrate.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.