The No. 1 recruit in the country is ready to take the college basketball world by storm
There's a new sheriff at Oklahoma State. Cade Cunningham arrives in Stillwater as the splashiest signee in program history. The Arlington, Texas, native is the No. 1-ranked recruit as well as the recipient of both the Naismith and MaxPreps 2020 Prep Player of the Year awards. The 6'8" point guard also led Team USA to a gold medal at the FIBA Under-19 World Cup last summer and guided Montverde (Fla.) Academy to a 25–0 record as a high school senior.
Athlon Sports went one-on-one with Cunningham, whose recent track record indicates that he's about to take college basketball by storm.
Q&A with Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham
What brought you to Oklahoma State?
A lot of aspects brought me to the school, but my relationship with Coach (Mike) Boynton was probably the most important one, for me. We built a really good foundation with our relationship early on and throughout my recruitment. It wasn't too hard to say yes to him.
Why is Mike Boynton the right coach for you?
He's a really big people person, but his leadership is what impressed me the most. He doesn't back down from any adversity, as you can see from the last three years of him coaching. The way he carries himself every day. He's always working. You can walk in the weight room, he's in there working. All those things. The little things mean a lot to me. Just seeing all
that really made me want to play for him.
Your older brother, Cannen, is also on the coaching staff…
Cannen is one of my biggest mentors in life. On the court and off the court. It's always been like that. He's always been a big influence on the way I see the game and the way I approach the game. We used to play one-on-one all the time. Now he's too big-time. He wants to save his knees, so he don't ever want to play anymore.
Did you beat him the last time you played?
Oh, I'm sure I did. He's gonna say no, but I'm sure I did though.
How tall are you and your brother? And your parents?
He's 6'10" and I’m 6'8". My dad is 6'0" and my mom is 5'11" or 5'10".
Describe your game. What are your strengths? What do you need to work on?
The biggest thing about me is I'm a winner. I lead my teammates. I'm good with different personalities. I'm a big-time playmaker. Whatever the team needs, I can adjust pretty well. And weaknesses, I'm definitely working on my shooting, my ball-handling, just tightening up everything to be the best guard I can be, while also working on my post game.
How good was Montverde last season?
If you ask me, that team was the best high school team ever. Just trying to say that as humble as possible. I think that. It was really fun to compete every practice. Coach (Kevin) Boyle is the best high school coach you can find.
Who else from your high school class of 2020 should we be looking out for?
Scottie Barnes. He's going to Florida State. He's 6'9", a freak athlete and he competes harder than anybody I've ever met. He'll be one guy that will really shine. We played at Montverde together. Playing with him, that really showed me first hand what kind of player he is. Ziaire Williams at Stanford, he's gonna have a great year. Jalen Suggs (at Gonzaga). Day'Ron Sharpe at North Carolina. There's a lot of really good players in the 2020 class.
The NCAA has a postseason ban on Oklahoma State. Did you ever consider going somewhere else or were you locked in?
I'm not going to say I reconsidered going anywhere else, but I definitely was open to my options of just seeing what the other possibilities of where I could go were. But it didn't take very long for me. I talked to Coach Boynton and he was super open with everything going on, everything about the situation. And I feel like I made the best decision in staying.
How was your experience winning the gold medal on the FIBA U-19 team in Greece?
It was a crazy experience to win a gold medal. Every country kind of has their own brand of basketball. Really getting to see that first hand was super interesting. Getting to go out there and win gold and have them play the national anthem, it was a lot of fun for me.
What's the coolest place you've been because of basketball?
Greece and Hawaii are pretty tough to beat. Greece, just because it's Greece. That was the only time I've ever been out of the country. Hawaii was probably my favorite place to go. We played in the 'Iolani Classic in a really small high school. But they filled it up. The whole town came out to the game, so it was a lot of fun.
Who's the coolest person you've met because of basketball?
Michael Jordan. I met Michael Jordan at his basketball camp when I was in like seventh grade. And I won MVP. And I was playing up with the seniors in high school. I'll never forget that. He came over and I should've gotten some shoes off of him. I don't know what happened.
There's still time…
There's still time. I'll run into him again.
Did you watch "The Last Dance"?
Oh yeah. For sure. A lot of people didn't really realize that Michael Jordan had his own office in the locker room. Did you realize that? In the locker room, Michael Jordan had his own office, where the players would go check in with him. That's a whole 'nother level.
Who did you look up to growing up? Who do you like to watch now?
I've always been a big LeBron (James) guy. Since I've really loved basketball, LeBron has probably been the biggest guy that I watched. Now I'm watching a whole lot more Luka (Doncic). I've always been a Mavericks fan. Dirk (Nowitzki) was one of my favorite players. He was a childhood hero. But Luka is a big guard; we have a lot of similarities in our body shapes and our playing styles. He's somebody I've been watching a whole lot of lately.
What about Luka's game can you draw from?
The way he uses his body is something that I've been watching a whole lot. He's not the quickest or the fastest guy, but he really does get to the spots he wants to get to pretty easily. Also, the way he controls the game. Everything goes at his tempo. And when he has the ball in his hands, he's probably a top-three playmaker in the NBA. There's just so many good things about him. He plays basketball the right way. Watching that, he has a whole lot of good things I can take away from.
He's not much older than you…
Right. He's fresh in the league. He's somebody I definitely want to get to go up against. He was supposed to be in a couple of open gyms that I went to over the last couple months. He was in there one time, but he was just working out before the open gym. He never played.
Who's the best older player you've played against?
Marcus Smart and Emmanuel Mudiay are definitely up there.
Those are a couple of Dallas guys…
Yeah. I've played against a bunch of NBA guys now. But I'm gonna say those two dudes since I've played against them so many times.
How's Marcus Smart's defense?
Oh my God. It's way different in person than it is on TV, for sure. Once you get to actually feel it. The reason I like him is he always makes me work for everything. He never takes it easy on me, so I appreciate him.
Your dad, Keith, played football at Texas Tech and you played QB as a kid. Does that impact your style on the basketball court?
Yeah. I played quarterback pretty much my whole life. Then I stopped once I got to high school. My dad was a big-time quarterback, so he was always pushing me. But I just had no passion for it really. I hated practicing. I just wanted to play games. And I lived in Texas, so practices are hot. But him teaching me how to control things in the pocket, that's helped me out a whole lot in terms of basketball. I don't get rattled as much as other guards. I don't get sped up in my mind as much. That"s helped slow the game down for me.
Had the NBA been an option, would you have entertained putting your name in the draft?
I would've definitely considered it. It really just depends on how equipped I feel for the NBA. I don't want to go into the NBA too early and me not be ready because that will cause an early exit. Just trying to be ready and prepared for the NBA, I feel like that's the biggest thing for me. And that's why I'm happy I'm at OSU.
Let's play a little word-association game. I'll say the name of an Oklahoma State legend, and you say what immediately comes to mind.
"Big Country" Bryant Reeves…
Breaking the backboard in the Final Four.
Gritty. The Grindfather.
Hall of Famer.
I actually ran into Rickie Fowler when I was really young. My grandfather was part of Colonial Country Club (in Fort Worth) and they have the big Colonial Tournament there. So I ran into Rickie Fowler. He had the bright orange Puma on, I remember it like it was yesterday. I said, "Hey mister, I like your shirt." He said, "I'm sure you would look good in orange, too." And I never knew he went to Oklahoma State until not too long ago. It's crazy that he went to Oklahoma State.
(Photo by Courtney Bay/OSU Athletics)