UK Recruiting

Star recruit of the weekend Nike basketball circuit now has Calipari’s full attention

Cade Cunningham surprised to learn that UK is his favorite

Five-star basketball recruit Cade Cunningham talks about his recruitment, his interest in Kentucky, other schools on his list, and more after the first day of action on the Nike EYBL circuit.
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Five-star basketball recruit Cade Cunningham talks about his recruitment, his interest in Kentucky, other schools on his list, and more after the first day of action on the Nike EYBL circuit.

A simple look at the national recruiting rankings will show that the Nike EYBL circuit, as usual, has a monopoly on the grassroots basketball talent this spring and summer.

A majority of the five-star prospects in the 2020 class are playing Nike ball, and there might not have been a better performer during the league’s opening weekend than Cade Cunningham.

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Texas native averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. He shot 62.1 percent from the floor, and — best of all — led his Texas Titans squad to victories in all four of the games they played.

There’s a good reason Cunningham is a top-10 player in the 2020 class.

“He’s tough, he’s physical, he can rebound, he can guard, he can pass,” 247Sports national analyst Evan Daniels told the Herald-Leader. “He’s pretty good across the board, except for in the shooting department. That would be the area that he’s going to have to grow and get better at. But I like his intensity, his competitiveness and his approach to the game.”

Cunningham did most of his damage around the basket this past weekend — making four of 11 three-point attempts over four games — but he played within himself and excelled at what he was doing. He summed up his own game, correctly, in one word: Versatile.

“I feel like I can do a lot of things. I can guard a lot of positions. I can play a lot of positions offensively,” he said. “I feel like I’m a really good leader — I like to lead my guys. I try to be like a quarterback for my team, so I feel like that’s big for me. And then I like to win, so I feel like that brings some more value to me.”

Cunningham has tremendous skill and feel for the game for a player of his size. At times, he even plays point guard for the Texas Titans, as well as his high school squad — prep powerhouse Montverde (Fla.) Academy — and he’s done it so well that some have suggested he could play the position in college.

“I don’t think I would classify him as a primary ball handler, but he’s a guy that you can put the ball in his hands and he can make plays. Because he’s smart. Because he has a high basketball IQ. And because he’s a good passer,” Daniels said, adding that he sees Cunningham as a player who could be a “situational” ball handler in college depending on the matchup.

Where he plays his college ball is still anyone’s guess.

Cunningham has obviously taken a look at his own 247Sports Crystal Ball page. “Everybody says I’m 100 percent Kentucky,” he said, clearly surprised by that breakdown. “I don’t know where it came from. I was shocked when I first saw it, because nobody ever asked me about it.”

It’s worth noting that there are only three predictions on his page, all of which are in favor of UK but came way back in 2017, with only one from a national recruiting analyst: 247Sports’ Jerry Meyer. There are no expert predictions on Cunningham’s FutureCast page.

The star recruit — ranked No. 8 nationally in the 2020 class — wasn’t necessarily upset by any perception that he might be a Kentucky lean, however. “I mean, it’s cool,” he said.

Cunningham also said that UK assistant coach Joel Justus has been recruiting him for a while, and John Calipari “is starting to reach out a lot more” in recent days. Calipari’s first game of the weekend session starred Cunningham, and all of UK’s assistant coaches watched him throughout the weekend.

“Coach Cal is a great coach,” Cunningham said. “They’re always going to compete for a national championship, which is what I want to do. And they’re always going to have good players playing around me. So, if I was to go to Kentucky, there would be a lot of good players around me. That’s mainly what they’re pitching me.”

Cunningham said he didn’t want to confirm which schools have issued scholarship offers, but he listed Texas, Michigan, Virginia, Kansas and Texas A&M (since Buzz Williams took over) as some of the other programs that have been on him the hardest recently.

“I have the same interest in (UK) as all my (schools) right now,” he said. “After the AAU season, then I’ll start to really look into all the schools that are recruiting me, specifically. But, for right now, it’s kind of open to everybody.”