'He is wild now': How Oklahoma State's Cade Cunningham was shaped by Montverde Academy coach Kevin Boyle
STILLWATER — Cade Cunningham and Moses Moody had one key rule in their dorm room a few years ago.
Never sleep facing each other.
If Cunningham rolled to his left side, so did Moody. Otherwise, things got awkward real fast for two high school junior basketball players sleeping in beds just a foot or two apart at Montverde Academy in Florida.
“We’d wake up in the morning and if we’d happen to be looking in the same direction, it’s like eye to eye,” Moody said. “It was a tough situation.”
Bunk beds were not an option for two players who are 6 feet 8 and 6 feet 6. They tried, but Moody arrived first and picked the bottom bunk. Cunningham was stuck on top and if he sat up, his head hit the ceiling.
In a cramped room, they had to split the beds.
“Man, listen, he’s not lying at all,” Cunningham said as he stood up and moved about a foot away from his Oklahoma State teammate Kalib Boone during a recent Zoom interview.
“Our beds were this far. I promise on everything.”
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Life at a prep school often thousands of miles from home is different. Players are forced to grow up fast as they practice, study, travel and share dorm rooms together. And at Montverde, they’re expected to be the best on the court.
It’s there that Cunningham became the No. 1-ranked recruit in the country, a rare point guard projected to be the top overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Playing on arguably the greatest high school team in history, he was the unquestioned leader.
“A lot of things I’ve learned there are going to translate for a long time,” Cunningham said.
Entering two Bedlam matchups in three days, the Cowboys’ superstar will be the focus on Saturday’s ABC national broadcast from Norman at 2 p.m. and then on ESPN's "Big Monday" in Stillwater at 8 p.m. Monday.
Cunningham leads the Big 12 with 18.7 points per game. He averages six rebounds (10th in the Big 12), is shooting 44.3% (seventh) and is shooting 83.8% from the free-throw line (fourth).
But just a year ago, he was wrapping up an undefeated season at Montverde against one of the toughest schedules in the country.
In just 22 minutes per game, he averaged 13.9 points, 6.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He was the Naismith Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American and a Jordan Brand All-American.
But he still wasn’t always the best player each day.
Scottie Barnes, now at Florida State, often dominated. Moody, now at Arkansas, was a star. Day’Ron Sharpe, now at North Carolina, was impressive, too. They were all McDonald’s All-Americans.
“That doesn’t happen at another high school,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said. “So, just having that challenge every day, you have to make sure you’re getting better. Otherwise, your teammates are good enough to beat you one on one or whatever.”
Cunningham arrived his junior year, having just moved to point guard the previous summer on his older brother, Cannen’s, AAU basketball team.
Playing for legendary coach Kevin Boyle was the right place for Cade.
Boyle coached Kyrie Irving, Michael Kidd-Gilchrest and Al Harrington at St. Patrick in New Jersey. At Montverde, he coached Ben Simmons, R.J. Barrett, D’Angelo Russell, Joel Embiid and others.
Boyle was the first coach outside of his brother to let Cunningham be a true point guard. Boyle trusted Cunningham, even if he had just one summer as a point guard on the AAU circuit. He had never played guard at Arlington (Texas) Bowie High.
“There’s nobody better than Coach Boyle,” Cannen said. “That was probably the main reason we felt comfortable sending him there, but also just knowing that he’ll get to get better every day in practice.
“With no disrespect to his public school, there wasn’t enough opportunity for growth anymore. He had outgrown his environment and we needed something new.”
After his first season at Montverde, Cade returned to Texas for the Nike EYBL circuit, where he dominated with 23.8 points per game. He was the league’s best player.
Boyle’s passion for the game instantly changed Cade.
“He’s absolutely addicted to basketball,” Cunningham said. “He almost brings that out of everybody on the team. You want to get in and watch film. You want to get in and shoot more. You want to be the first guy in the gym. That’s how he is. You want to impress the coach just because how much he relies on us.”
Boyle helped his players find a new level, too.
“He is wild now,” Cunningham said.
Boyle pushed hard. He tested his players. But it was all worth it.
Cunningham blossomed. So did others. Even major recruits came off the bench, putting their ego aside for the team.
“The biggest thing is he finds ways to translate the best route for each individual player on the team,” Cunningham said. “I can’t imagine another high school coach being able to get another five-star guy to lock in and buy into coming off the bench in high school.
“The way that he did it so easily and still kept guys locked in and still kept the team happy, there’s not enough words.”
Jacob Unruh covers college sports for The Oklahoman. You can send your story ideas to him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.