It’s not often that a freshman comes into Oklahoma State, let alone any other college basketball team, and immediately picks up the role as a leader. But it also isn’t every day the No. 1 freshman in the country plays in Stillwater.
Cade Cunnigham came to Stillwater as the highest-rated recruit in school history, but once he got to campus, he dropped that title and began to be a leader on the team by being a normal college basketball player.
“I came in with a lot of hype,” Cunningham said. “Being able to come in and work just as hard. I don’t want anybody to feel like they have to cater to me or anything. I think me coming in and not asking for any extra or complaining about all the stuff that everybody is doing, I think that has been a big thing for the team to see because they know that I’m in this with them.”
Among other attributes, Cunningham knows the game well and how it works. Cunningham takes any opportunity to share his knowledge of his craft with his teammates.
“I think I have a pretty good basketball IQ, so I share it whenever I can,” Cunningham said. “I think I’m a pretty decent leader, I’m not the best leader ever but I’m alright so I just try and bring that to the team.”
However, coach Mike Boynton acknowledges that Cunningham is a leader on the team but still has work to do in that department.
Boynton said he is helping Cunningham be more vocal during practices, but Cunningham still has to develop because at the end of the day, he is still a freshman.
“It’s actually not his most natural thing,” Boynton said. “He’s embraced that he needs to develop that skill a little bit more, it’s an area of improvement for him to be more of a vocal guy. I tell guys all the time the No. 1 component of leadership to keep in mind is, ‘Do people follow you?’
“You’re not a leader because you are a senior, you’re not a leader because someone names you capitan, or because you are older. You’re a leader because people follow you.”
Boynton said that Cunningham’s leadership will be what NBA scouts look for when they watch film of practices and games because it’s how he helps others succeed that will help him in the long run.
“I’ve encouraged him to take more ownership, even as a freshman, who we expect to make a lot of contributions to us because obviously, at the end of the day, there are going to be a lot of eyeballs on him and his decision making in regards to helping other guys have success,” Boynton said.