College basketball has entered the fall evaluation period, and Roy Williams is back on the road visiting various recruits. King among the recruits he is visiting this week is 2020 five-star combo guard Cade Cunningham, who is being targeted as a successor of projected one-and-done UNC freshman Cole Anthony. Williams visited Cunningham and his family this past Monday when the evaluation period reopened as a showing to them that UNC is indeed prioritizing him on their recruiting board, a move that can only help their chances of pulling him away from Oklahoma State.
One important thing to note about Williams’ visit to Cunningham is that an official visit to Chapel Hill is scheduled for September 27th, which is the same weekend that Late Night with Roy takes place, as well as the UNC football game against Clemson at Kenan Stadium. It’s also worth noting that Kentucky head coach John Calipari also visited Cunningham Monday, and that an official visit is scheduled with them for October 12. Given everything we’ve heard about Cunningham’s recruitment so far, all of this information raises one question: what exactly is going on, and why hasn’t Cunningham committed to Oklahoma State yet?
Before we dive into this question, we first must take a look at what we know so far. Oklahoma State has made Cunningham the top priority in their recruiting process, and they even hired his brother, Cannen Cunningham, as an assistant coach. The hiring of Cannen doesn’t necessarily imply motive, as he has a basketball-related resumé — Cunningham spent last season on staff at Tulane, though his position that he held there was associate director of video operations. He also played at SMU during his college days, and so there is at least something that Oklahoma State could point to in terms of qualifications, right? Alright, so they’re not the best credentials to win an assistant coach job, but we’re not here to analyze motive, we’re just here to state facts. Moving on.
After Cannen was hired, many recruiting analysts felt like Cade ending up at Oklahoma State was a done deal. There was an enormous amount of evidence from previous recruitments that would suggest as much, such as players like Danny Manning, Dajaun Wagner, Mario Chalmers, and others. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish spoke with many analysts this week and none of them could recall a situation like this transpiring that didn’t result in the recruit in question committing to the same school their relative was on staff at. So then this process should’ve ended prior to Cunningham’s upcoming slate of official visits, right? Well, it’s the fact that this is still going that makes things very, very interesting.
Something important that Parrish also pointed out is that Hall of Fame coaches like Williams and Calipari aren’t likely to continue applying this much pressure unless they knew they had some measurable amount of chance to land a recruit. Knowing how Roy Williams operates specifically, he’s known when to keep applying pressure on a recruit and when to hang it up. It especially wouldn’t be the end of the world if Williams decided to instead turn all of his focus to Bryce Thompson, who is the 4th best combo guard in the class, due to the likelihood of Cunningham ending up at Oklahoma State. With that said, UNC’s staff staying this involved means that they recognize an opportunity there that someone doesn’t see with a kid that is destined to play basketball at their brother’s place of employment.
Another reinforcing piece of information about how well things are going for UNC in Cunningham’s process is that Rivals’ Corey Evans came back with more takes in his weekly Twitter question piece stating that he gives the Tar Heels a 40% chance of landing Cunningham. Perhaps even more interesting is that next in line isn’t Kentucky, but is instead Washington, who is his “darkhorse” pick. Both Rivals and 247Sports still have OSU as the overwhelming favorite to land Cunningham, but also the analysts in both sites haven’t updated their selections in a few months. I’d expect some of these picks to read very different when they update.
So, how should UNC fans feel about Cunningham’s recruitment? The answer is cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the cautious part. History indicates that he will almost certainly join his brother at Oklahoma State, but there’s also a lot of evidence that points to Cunningham having an open mind in his recruiting process. The most telling part of all of this is how the coaching staffs of two traditional powerhouses are continuing to pursue him, and so this truly isn’t over until it’s over. In short, if you decided that following his recruitment process was a lost cause, it’ll be worth paying attention to starting with his official visit in a couple of weeks.