Q&A with top available senior Cade Cunningham
Ranked as the top guard in the 2020 class and the best available prospect this fall, the storylines have not been in short supply regarding Cade Cunningham. It has been a whirlwind of a year for the five-star who has ascended the top 10 of his class rankings and is now squarely in the argument for being ranked as the best player in the nation.
Just this summer, Cunningham’s brother, Cannen Cunningham, was hired on staff at Oklahoma State, and while many assumed that a commitment would immediately follow, the second-ranked senior decided to keep his recruitment open. Months later, Cunningham is focused on a final school list that features Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Washington.
Cunningham is in the middle of his official visit tour. He has already been to the campuses at OK State and UNC, and this weekend he will be off to Florida. We sat down with Cunningham for a complete Q&A session and discussed a number of topics, including his continued progress as a player, what each finalist means to him, a reworked visit schedule, owning the recruiting process and when he expects to commit.
Corey Evans (CE): How has the past month or so been here for you back at school and at Montverde?
Cade Cunningham (CC): It has been good. I am happy to get away from the summer circuit, the summer madness and all of that and really get to just focus on my game. Really, just focus on myself and my health; it was a long summer. I have just been focusing on my legs and have been sitting out; this was my first practice in weeks. I don’t really get to focus on my game a lot during the summer, so it has been good.
CE: What have you been primarily focusing on?
CC: Mainly my jump shot. Everybody knows that. Just making sure that I am fixing my jumper and making sure that it is smooth and then turn it into makes but making sure that I have a good foundation with it.
CE: You shot nearly 39 percent from 3 on the EYBL circuit, but then went 1-for-13 from 3 with Team USA this summer. Where do you fall in between those two?
CC: I think I am lot better of a shooter than most others think. If you look at the numbers, I don’t think that I am a liability on the perimeter or anything like that. But with USA, that was all mental. I couldn’t make anything, even my field-goal percentage was low and then shooting the 3, it was just a bad tournament for me.
I did a lot of other things well, but I definitely didn’t shoot the ball well. I don’t really look at what other people are saying, though. I already know what I need to work on and I think when my defenders don’t think that I can shoot, that is when I can really show what I can do.
CE: Let’s talk about this rapid rise really quick. You go from a fringe top 10 prospect a year ago to being in the conversation for the best player in America. What has that been like for you?
CC: It was a lot of motivation that went into how hard I worked, and I don’t think people really understand, like I don’t think it was healthy how much work I was putting in. Me, my cousin, Ashton, my brother, like I said, I don’t think it was healthy how much work we were putting in and just taking it one step at a time.
I worked on my pick-and-roll game for the whole summer going into to Montverde for my first year and then, after that, just keep on adding and eventually, after my year here, because coach (Kevin) Boyle put a lot into me, and then during the summer, that was when I was able to put it all together and everybody saw what I was doing.
CE: On to your recruitment. You started last month off at Oklahoma State. How was that for you there? Did it meet your standards and live up to what you’d hope it would be?
CC: I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if it was going to be a super-small, chill place, or if it was going to be huge. I think it was a happy medium between those two, which I like. It was a place that I know that I could go there and focus on my game and have all of my family around there to work with. We already speak the same basketball language, so to have everybody around would be good but, at the same time I really like the staff and I like what they are doing there. I really liked the visit and what I saw.
CE: Last week, you went to UNC. What was that like in your mind? What did you learn?
CC: The biggest thing that surprised me was the atmosphere. Even with the football team, the fans are so North Carolina, no matter what it is; women’s soccer, just everything. I really liked that.
Obviously, the basketball side, coach Roy (Williams), he is a great coach. Even stepping into the gym, it was kind of surreal for me. Even now, I don’t know why, but I still think that I am this guy that nobody knows and that I am not supposed to be in these gyms. Even with Oklahoma State, it was like, “Oh my gosh!”
North Carolina, Armando (Bacot) was a great coach, and I really liked what I saw. It was great vibes the whole time and feel like those are two places that I could see myself succeeding and I don’t think that I could go wrong at either place.
CE: You head to Florida this weekend and will have your former teammate, Omar Payne, there with you. What are you looking forward to seeing there?
CC: I think they were on break last time and there wasn’t a lot of people there - but I just want to see everybody there. It will be their homecoming weekend against Auburn, so that will be a lot of fun but really, just getting to sit down, on official visits, you get to sit down with the coaches and figure out the plan for me. They have gone over a few things in the past and I have liked what they have had to say, but this will be my first time to really sit down with them along with my family and put everything together while I am there.
CE: After that, it is Kentucky or USA Basketball for you?
CC: No, I rescheduled Kentucky, so I am going to USA now.
CE: When might Kentucky be?
CC: It isn’t fully set yet but I am thinking Nov. 2.
CE: Well, what does the idea of Kentucky mean to you?
CC: Coach Cal (John Calipari), his main thing is, I have just been very transparent with all of the coaches recruiting me and I don’t want to just make it to the league but rather, I want to be an all-star and a max contract guy.
I feel if you just shoot to make it in the league, that is how you sell yourself short, so just telling him that I want to be a max contract guy, that is a good goal to set. He has had so many of those guys and guys like me and all others at other positions that have been No. 1 picks, so that has been his main pitch to me.
Terrence Clarke and Brandon Boston are both my guys, those are guys that I know that I would be able to fit with, even if no one else thinks so. I talk to them a lot. Lance Ware is one of my really good friends, and even Cam Fletcher I am really good with, so I am really cool with all of those guys and talking to De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese (Maxey) and guys like that, they have all said that it is a place that I can really develop and work on my game. It is also on this humongous stage, so he has had a really good pitch so far. So, I really want to go and see it.
CE: Last one is Washington. I know you and Coach Hop (Mike Hopkins), there is a good relationship there. What intrigues you about that visit on Oct. 18?
CC: I think that Washington is a program that is super slept on, and I don’t think people are really taking notice as to what Coach Hopkins is really doing. I was already building a really good relationship before I got to Team USA and I didn’t even know that he was going to be an assistant until a couple of days before I got there. He didn’t really say anything to me recruiting-wise the whole trip. He wanted it to be strictly USA Basketball, and I really respected that so much, but I really respect him as a coach and I realized why Washington is on the rise.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they were a Final Four team this year and his pitch to me, I feel like all of the coaches in my top five, the head coaches, more than anything, they are good people, they are people that I trust going there and they would treat me right. I feel like Coach Hop is one of those guys, even if I don’t go there, he is still going to call and check on me, and the situation there with a lot of veteran guys, I could step in and play in the Pac-12. That is a fast league, a scoring league, a lot like the NBA, and I can work on my game to get to the NBA to be an all-star one day.
CE: There have been rumblings about you getting guys to go come play with you compared to you going and joining another group. How accurate is that? Or how important is that for you to have guys around you in college?
CC: I think it is really important. I want to win a national championship. All five of my schools, I feel like I could go there and win a national championship and that is why they are in my final five. I never lied about that and whether people agree with me or not. These are schools that if I were to go there, is a group of guys that I know that I would be able to get and for other schools, I could get different guys.
I am really big on choosing who I want to play with and it will be one of the last times that I will be able to do that. While I can, I might as well take advantage of it. I feel like most guys like to play with me and I just try and use that a lot. Even at Montverde, you can see there is a lot of unselfish guys here that just want to win. So just to do that in college, I want to win a national championship and I feel that I can do that at all of them.
My dad has always told me to be a leader and not a follower in everything, even if it is my friends saying that they want to go to the store, they’d be about, “What store you going to?” That has been instilled in me since I was little, and I feel like I have carried that throughout my entire life.
CE: Lastly, you’re going to be done with all of your visits by early November. So, is the plan to sign early still?
CC: I put a time frame on it early because I just wanted to be done with it so bad - and I still just want it to be done with so bad - but is such a tough decision. I just want to make sure I make the best decision for me. Nobody else will go to these schools but me, so I am really not worried about what anybody else says but I am just trying to make sure that I do it the right way and choose the school that fits me and can help me achieve all of my goals.
The first signing period, that would be the perfect situation and ideal for me, but if it goes past that, it goes past that. I don’t know if I will sign in the first signing period but I definitely want to be committed as soon as possible.