Cade Cunningham used to see superstars when he watched NBA players.
Now, he sees opponents. They soon will see him, too.
Cunningham announced Thursday that he will enter the NBA draft after a dynamic freshman season for Oklahoma State that saw him named a first-team AP All-American.
“I see them as more human now than I used to,” Cunningham said. “I’ve been looking at those guys since I was a sophomore in high school. Those are the guys I’ve got to try to outwork right now.”
The 6-foot-8 point guard is ranked as ESPN’s top draft prospect, and his decision to go pro was no surprise, as the 19-year-old Cunningham participated in Senior Night activities before the Cowboys faced Oklahoma in Stillwater.
But even after Oklahoma State’s NCAA tournament loss to Oregon State, Cunningham wouldn’t fully commit either way, deflecting a question about his future while hinting he was ready to move on. He finally made his declaration in a news conference at Gallagher-Iba Arena with coach Mike Boynton by his side and his teammates seated in the courtside bleachers.
“It’s hard to make that decision in the moment, so I just wanted to wait until my head was level,” Cunningham said. “But I was just blessed to have that opportunity to be able to enter the draft. I felt like I had did a lot of the work early to be in that position.”
Cunningham, who won the Wayman Tisdale Award as the top freshman in college basketball, led the Big 12 in scoring with 20.1 points per game — the fourth-highest mark by a freshman in league history — while also ranking in the top 10 in rebounding (6.2, ninth), field goal percentage (.438, eighth) and free throw percentage (.846, third).
Boynton said that versatility should serve Cunningham well as a pro.
“He’s unique in that I don’t think you can have a roster that he couldn’t fit in because he’s able to play with any type of other player,” Boynton said. “I think he fits regardless of what your roster looks like because his versatility allows you to play another point guard with him, play him at the point, he can post up, which we’ve shown this year, he can be a shooter. That totality of skills is what makes him, I think, a super-high value for any NBA franchise out there.”
Cunningham often saved his best moments for late-game surges. In his most dynamic performance, he scored 10 of his 40 points in overtime to help the Cowboys win at rival Oklahoma. He finished his college career by scoring 24 points in Oklahoma State’s 80-70 loss to Oregon State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Cunningham knows the work is just beginning. The Texas native has already been thinking of ways to improve before the July 29 draft.
“Throughout the season, I was just adding things on in my head,” he said. “We don’t have as much time to just get in the gym and work. I definitely want to get my fluidity and my movement better, whether that’s yoga and things like that. Just getting my range of motion and things a lot better. I still want to focus on tightening my handle, shooting the ball better, just getting more consistent at a lot of the things that I do now.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.