Cade Cunningham guarantees Oklahoma State's return to the Big Dance | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Saturday / May 21.
  • Cade Cunningham guarantees Oklahoma State’s return to the Big Dance

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    By SETH SOFFIAN

    FORT MYERS, Fla.Cade Cunningham wasn’t familiar – or all that concerned – with an oddity regarding recent No. 1 overall NBA Draft selections Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz.

    Neither was able to take their college squads (LSU and Washington, respectively) to the NCAA tournament in their one-and-done seasons.

    Cunningham, the 6-foot-7 senior point guard from Montverde (FL) Academy and projected No. 1 pick in 2021, just knows that won’t be the case for him.

    “Oklahoma State will be in it for sure,” said Cunningham, who committed to the Cowboys in early November. “They’re going to be in it this year, and we’re going to be back in next year.” (ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has the Cowboys among the “Last Four Byes” for 2020.)

    Cunningham, born and raised in Arlington, Texas, before moving to Florida for his junior year, said at the time of his commitment that he was close to passing on Oklahoma State, where his brother, Cannen, was hired by third-year Cowboys coach Mike Boynton in June.

    “But blood is always thicker than water,” he said then. “Go Pokes.”

    Cunningham took official visits to Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida and Washington as well as Oklahoma State and received a strong late push from Kentucky.

    But he told ZAGSBLOG this week from Florida – where he helped Montverde to its fourth City of Palms Classic title in eight years – that there’s been no wavering on his decision.

    “Everything’s been good,” said Cunningham, named to the all-tournament team despite major foul trouble in a 63-55 defeat of IMG Academy (Florida) in Monday night’s final.

    “I’m happy with where I’m at. Coach Boynton, me and him have a very good relationship. Everything’s quieted down for me. I’ve been super comfortable since I made the decision.”

    Oklahoma State, which has missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and three of the last four (and hasn’t advanced past the first round since 2009), scored a major coup landing the multi-skilled Cunningham.

    He has drawn comparisons to Simmons for his floor-general skills, even if he doesn’t share the same infamous shooting limitations as the 6-10 Australian, who also starred under Boyle at Montverde before becoming the No. 1 overall pick by Philadelphia in 2016.

    “People are going to compare. That’s what happens,” Cunningham said. “I don’t really care about it. I just try to play my game.”

    Sharpening his shot is among Cunningham’s individual priorities his senior season.

    “I’ve been working on my jump shot a lot. I think it’s starting to get a little bit better,” he said. “My handles with the ball, I’ve been working on that, just making sure I’m more crisp on my passes and decision-making. Those are the three main things I’m working on a lot. I can see the results from it, but I still have to get a lot better.”

    Monday night, consensus No. 1 Montverde avenged a loss to IMG, No. 6 in the USA Today Super 25, in the semifinals of last year’s GEICO national championships.

    Carrying that success through to what would be its fifth national title since 2013 tops Montverde’s season goals, Cunningham said.

    “Came short last year,” said Cunningham, whose squad has heard plenty of talk that this year’s Montverde squad is the school’s – and perhaps high school basketball’s – best ever.

    “I hear it. We all hear it. We try not to feed into it too much. That’s a main ingredient for people to lose. Just listening to that it gives us confidence, but we’re not buying into that. We’re going to try to prove it every night.”

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.