No. 1 recruit Cade Cunningham has options after Oklahoma State is banned from the NCAA Tournament


Cade Cunningham is the best and brightest incoming freshman in college basketball next season. And he plays for a team that’s banned from the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions revealed its punishments for Oklahoma State on Friday for misdeeds committed by former assistant coach Lamont Evans as part of the FBI scandal, and among the penalties is a postseason ban in 2020-2021. The ban — if upheld on appeal — would significantly dull the spotlight that was expected to shine bright on Cunningham, the No. 1 overall recruit in the Class of 2020 according to 247Sports and the front-runner to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

OSU coach Mike Boynton suggested in a call with reporters Friday that a release could be on the table for Cunningham — and for the rest of OSU’s recruits and players. Specifically with Cunningham, Boynton says it will be a dialogue to make the right decision for him between going overseas, transferring to another school, signing with the G League, or staying with Oklahoma State.

“We’re gonna try to look at all the options, whatever they are: G League, overseas, transfer to another school, stay at Oklahoma State,” he said. “I didn’t spend four years recruiting him to abandon what’s important for him.”

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For as brutal a punishment as a postseason ban is for Oklahoma State, the timing could make any reroute for Cunningham difficult. Bailing on the plan to attend college — and to play for his older brother — could be a tough call to make at this stage. Nonetheless, it’s one that would be welcomed by many; dozens upon dozens of programs would move mountains to try and get him on campus next season, and we already know the G League — which paid hundreds of thousands to land No. 2 recruit Jalen Green — would love another crack at the No. 1 recruit.On a call with the media Friday, the NCAA’s Larry Parkinson said all student-athletes — including incoming recruits — can apply for a standard waiver to be granted a release from their commitment, should they choose to do so. Cunningham falls into that category, but with a twist: he has signed his NLI but not yet enrolled. A simple release from his NLI could allow him to pursue a professional career or other college options without restrictions.

Cunningham chose Oklahoma State citing his relationship with Boynton and his relationship with his older brother, Cannen Cunningham, who was hired as an assistant coach on Boynton’s staff last year.

“Blood is always thicker than water,” Cunningham said at the time of his commitment. But sticking with those plans in the midst of a significant alteration in course could also be possible. AsĀ Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported Friday, Cunningham was offered a not-insignificant amount of money to play for the G League previously before turning it down and sticking with his OSU commitment. That could potentially change if he were to recalibrate his options.

In the end, though, regardless of what happens, all of this is a stain on the sport and on college basketball. One of its most talented young players won’t get to shine in March next season. Another potential No. 1 pick — like Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz — may toil away in irrelevance on a team incapable of winning it all. No one wins in this situation. The bad actors involved are long gone, and the current regime — players and coaches — are all new.

“Maybe probation I could see, reduction in recruiting activities,” said Boynton. “But a postseason ban for a group of kids who were 15, 16 years old when this was going on? It’s completely out of bounds.”





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