OSU freshman Cade Cunningham feels right at home with Cowboys: 'The perfect move for me'
STILLWATER — Cade Cunningham’s life these days is pretty simple.
He rises early for a workout. He goes to study hall and logs into Zoom for his online classes. He lifts weights with his Oklahoma State teammates. He watches film. He practices.
Basketball is nearly all-consuming.
And the nation’s most-anticipated freshman this season prefers it no other way.
“I’d rather be busy than bored all day,” Cunningham said.
He’s left little time to dream of next year’s NBA Draft and if he’ll go No. 1 overall. OSU’s NCAA sanctions aren’t even on his radar.
“Honestly, I never think about it until I get asked about it,” Cunningham said.
Five months after Cunningham reaffirmed his commitment to OSU despite a pandemic and a postseason ban in likely his only college basketball season, everything remains right in his world.
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He has basketball in a place he loves more than he even anticipated.
“This was the perfect move for me,” Cunningham told The Oklahoman. “Since being here, it’s been easier than what I thought it would be. I have a stronger love for the coaches than what I thought I would have. I get along better with my teammates than what I thought I would.
“Everything’s been better than I expected. I’m not going to pretend it's roses and daisies and everything is all jolly and happy every day, but I definitely made the right choice.”
The sanctions — a punishment stemming from former associate coach Lamont Evans accepting bribes to influence student-athletes in 2016-17 — have been appealed but remain a dark cloud over the program trying to rebound from two straight disappointing seasons.
And the sanctions nearly blew up everything OSU coach Mike Boynton built, including a top-10 recruiting class.
Each player on the roster — incoming or returning — had the opportunity to go elsewhere. Only two players left, including starting center Yor Anei.
The entire recruiting class remained committed.
“People were frustrated at first, but I think everybody wants to stick here because of the personnel, instead of what was going on,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham was driving with OSU freshman forward Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe from a workout in Dallas on June 5 when Boynton called with the grim news.
Cunningham then faced a decision.
He could play for any program in the country. Several coaches reached out. The G League was an option. So was playing overseas.
The Cunningham family held multiple meetings in their Dallas-area home. Different options were discussed.
Cannen Cunningham, Cade’s older brother who is an assistant at OSU, was involved at times, working to balance his family and coaching relationship. Boynton was in constant contact, but even he stepped back for three or four days once to give Cade space.
Cunningham maintains his decision was reached within 24 hours.
“Early, Cade was favoring some other schools,” Cannen said. “Everybody had their own opinion and it wasn't until — I'm not sure how far before his decision — but it wasn't until the last probably a couple of weeks that we were all on the same page.”
“Luckily, Mike did a great job from the jump just to keep us in there from a loyalty aspect. Cade really appreciated that Mike was the first person that really bought in on him.”
Boynton said: “I knew that the relationship was strong enough that I didn’t lose any nights of sleep. I’ll put it that way.”
Cade features a rare mix of size and skill as a 6-foot-8 point guard. The Naismith High School Player of the Year is adept at precision passes with a dynamic ability around the basket to go along with his plus defense.
And he fits in well with the Cowboys.
He’s gone through Boynton’s grueling workouts that test freshmen. Cade has also become just one of the guys.
“He’s one of those guys that he’s building relationships with everybody,” OSU graduate transfer Ferron Flavors Jr. said. “Sometimes you don’t hear about that often, especially with somebody that knows he’s probably going to only be in college one year and one of the top draft picks.”
With his decision to join the Cowboys sealed, Cade’s focus has turned to improving and making OSU a winner again.
He’s worked tirelessly on his jump shot, trying to dispel a belief that his shooting is a weakness.
He’s helped lead a team hungry to prove something — even if there is no postseason.
“Whenever everything came out, people were expecting us, I guess, to not play hard or something,” Cade said. “We’re still basketball players and none of us like to lose. I think people are going to come in and take us lightly or something.
“But we compete every day here. I think we’re going to compete every game. But I’m excited. I’m excited to see what we’re going to do.”