Cade Cunningham is the first and best rookie in college basketball next season. And he plays for a team that is banned from the 2021 NCAA tournament.
NCAA Offenses Committeefor misdeeds committed by former assistant coach Lamont Evans in connection with the FBI scandal, and among the sanctions is a ban on the playoffs in 2020-2021. The ban – if upheld on appeal – would significantly dim the spotlight that was to shine on Cunningham, the 247 Sports No. 1 overall rookie in the 2020 class and the favorite to be the in the 2021 NBA project.
OSU coach Mike Boynton suggested in a call to reporters on Friday that a release may be on the table for Cunningham – and the rest of the recruits and players of the OSU. Specifically with Cunningham, Boynton says it will be a dialogue to make the right decision for him between going abroad, transferring to another school, signing with the G League or staying with Oklahoma State.
“We will try to look at all the options, whatever they are: G League, overseas, transfer to another school, stay in Oklahoma State,” he said. “I haven’t spent four years recruiting him to give up what’s important to him. “
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For as brutal a sanction as an end-of-season ban is for the state of Oklahoma, the schedule could make any reorientation for Cunningham difficult. Giving up on going to college – and playing for his older brother – might be a difficult call to make at this point. Nevertheless, he is the one who would be welcomed by many; dozens and dozens of programs would move mountains to try to get him to campus next season, and we already know that G-League – who paid hundreds of thousands to recruit Jalen Green, rookie 2 – would love another crack at no. Larry Parkinson of the NCAA said on Friday that all student athletes – including new recruits – can apply for a standard waiver for release from engagement, if they choose to do so. Cunningham falls into this category, but with a twist: he signed his NLI but is not yet registered. A simple release from his NLI could allow him to pursue a professional career or other academic options without restrictions.
Cunningham chose Oklahoma State citing his relationship with Boynton and his relationship with older brother Cannen Cunningham, who was hired as an assistant staff coach for Boynton last year.
“Blood is always thicker than water,” said Cunningham when he signed up. But sticking to these plans in the midst of a major course change may also be possible. As Jeff Goodman of the stadium reported on Friday, Cunningham was offered a substantial amount of money to play for the G League before refusing it and honoring his OSU commitment. This could potentially change if he recalibrated his options.
In the end, however, no matter what happens, it is all a blot on the sport and on college basketball. One of his most talented young players will not shine in March next season. Another potential No. 1 choice – like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz – may work irrelevant on a team unable to win everything. No one wins in this situation. The bad actors involved have long since disappeared, and the current regime – players and coaches – is brand new.
“Maybe I could see probation, a reduction in recruiting activities,” said Boynton. “But a post-season ban for a group of kids who were 15, 16 when it happened? It’s completely off limits. “