Cade Cunningham surprised to learn that UK is his favorite
The Nike league regular season wrapped up this past weekend, and the next several weeks will feature a few high-profile basketball camps and other various events before the top teams on that circuit reconvene in July for the annual Peach Jam extravaganza.
Here’s the latest on a couple of UK-centric storylines coming out of the spring period:
Cade Cunningham: Already a top-10 recruit in the 2020 class, no prospect in the country did more to further his standing than Cunningham, who was arguably the best player through the first three sessions of Nike play and will be one of the most-watched recruits in this cycle.
Cunningham — a 6-foot-7 Texan with point guard skills and tremendous versatility — averaged 25.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. Seemingly every time a recruiting analyst compiled a “best performances” list from the Nike stops in Atlanta, Indianapolis and Dallas, Cunningham’s name was on it.
“People are acting like Cade’s coming out of nowhere. Cade’s been there. He’s a top-five player in America,” Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I think it’s moreso about — we were worried about how athletic he was. He didn’t always have that burst. He didn’t always score well at the bucket. His IQ and maturity were always off the charts.”
Cunningham’s athleticism has clearly improved, and Evans pointed to one particularly nasty drive-and-dunk during the Dallas session last weekend to illustrate that point.
“His athleticism has gone through the roof,” Evans said. “And you add that to the size that he has at the point guard position, his toughness, his feel for the game, his continued improvement as a shot maker — and, most of all, he just makes everyone around him better. His ability to make the right read and pass off the high ball screen is second to none in the high school game. And it adds up to what you’re seeing: arguably the top player in America.”
Rivals.com ranks Cunningham as the No. 5 player in the 2020 class. ESPN and 247Sports both rank him No. 8 nationally, and the feedback from analysts at those services this spring indicate he’ll be due for a bump up the rankings on the next update.
247Sports and Rivals both also list Cunningham as a small forward, but that thinking is starting to shift.
“He has to be a point guard,” Evans said. “He’s way less valuable off the basketball. His one knock right now is his shot-making. Can he become a consistent 21-foot-and-in shot-maker? He will, I know that, because of his work ethic, and his mechanics aren’t bad. But there just aren’t many better play-makers than him. So, why would you move him off the ball? If he can find a place where he has athletes around him — and shot-makers and scorers around him — then you just let him to what he does.”
It’s worth noting that 247Sports national analysts Evan Daniels and Jerry Meyer have both logged predictions in favor of Oklahoma State on Cunningham’s Crystal Ball page this week, a sign the Cowboys are in pretty good shape going into the summer.
Cunningham doesn’t appear to be close to a college decision, however, and UK has just recently ramped up its recruitment of the Montverde (Fla.) Academy star.
On Thursday, he released a top-10 list for the first time in his recruitment. It includes Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
A 2020 reclassification?: Kentucky got some great news this week with the announced returns of last season’s frontcourt reserves — Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery — to go along with off-season frontcourt addition Nate Sestina, a graduate transfer from Bucknell.
For the short term, many UK fans are fixated on the possible addition of Virginia Tech star Kerry Blackshear Jr., who is ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 immediately available transfer in the country for next season.
UK will have steep competition for Blackshear, however, and if the Cats do miss out on the 6-10 center, those who believe they need a little more frontcourt help will turn their full attention to reclassification candidates currently in the 2020 class.
In the case of another impact frontcourt addition, it might be Blackshear or bust.
“N’Faly is the only one that I’ve heard much about lately,” Rivals.com’s Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader this week.
Maker — the 7-foot cousin of NBA player Thon Maker — has been lighting up the Adidas competition this spring and seems destined for a top-five ranking in the 2020 class, but his camp has remained steadfast that he’ll stick in the 2020 class.
Omoruyi — a 6-10 center from Nigeria, now playing for the New Jersey alma mater of Isaiah Briscoe and Kahlil Whitney — needs only a couple of summer courses for his high school graduation, but it seems unlikely he’d get much playing time next season with Richards, Sestina and Montgomery on the roster. Rivals.com ranks Omoruyi as the No. 55 player in the 2020 class, and he averaged 11.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game on the Nike circuit this spring.
Todd — a more versatile 6-10 forward who played high school ball in Raleigh, N.C., last season — averaged 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in Nike play this spring, though he’s all but slammed the door on reclassification talk. The only instance in which it seemed like an option would’ve been if UK had a glaring hole in the frontcourt for next season.
That leaves Dante, a 6-11 center from Mali with a 7-5 wingspan and elite rebounding and shot-blocking skills. He was named the MVP of the Nike stop in Indianapolis and averaged 14.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game this spring while shooting 70 percent from the field.
Evans is expecting him to make the move to 2019, if possible.
“They’re trying to do it,” he said. “I think it’s going to be more about getting the academics in line and getting the test score in line, rather than, ‘Is it time to go?’ Because, it’s time to go. What he’s doing now from an offensive perspective, it’s all there. And he’s already a dominant defender, as we know. If he can get the grades, it’s going to be done, I think.
“And Kentucky is going to be in there.”
Evans listed UK, Kansas, Louisiana State, Michigan State and Oregon as the schools he expects will pursue Dante hard if he makes the jump to 2019, but — here’s the bad news for Kentucky fans — the Herald-Leader has been told in recent days that LSU and Oregon should be considered the most likely landing spots if he does reclassify.
There’s also the probability that other major programs in need of a big man will be interested.
“Once the dam breaks and this news comes out, more and more will get involved,” Evans said. “Because he’s that guy that can really push the tide for any of these potential national title teams.”