Cade Cunningham caught the ball at the top of the key as time ticked away in Oklahoma State’s Round of 32 matchup with Oregon State.
He air mailed a 3-point shot — not the way one would’ve imagined his season ending, but that was the final shot out of his hands.
The Cowboys 80-70 loss to the Beavers marks what most likely will be Cunningham’s final game to don the Cowboys name on his jersey, as he is projected to be the top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.
“(The journey) it’s been special, I think that’s the best way to describe it,” Cunningham said. “I think the biggest thing is I surrounded myself with great people, more than anything that’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Cunningham didn’t have to come to Stillwater, in fact before he got to campus, due to NCAA rules, he could’ve transferred after the Cowboys were hit with NCAA penalties.
But he stayed true to his original commitment, and it all paid off.
“I think it was more than worth it,” Cunningham said. “Like I said I was around the right people. I just can’t thank them enough.
But he stayed. The freshman phenom was everything he was marketed as and possibly even more. In Sunday’s game Cunningham scored 24 points and had five steals.
Coach Mike Boynton began recruiting Cunningham before he had even played a high school varsity game, and now the hard work has paid off— for both of them. Cunningham was Boynton’s first big recruit to get into the doors, and opened the gates to possibly more.
“I’m not sure I really have words, he’s a special dude,” an emotional Boynton said. “He’s made me better. He allowed me to coach him. He allowed me to hold him accountable.”
Cuningham is equally thankful to Boynton as Boynton is for him.
“That’s my guy man,” Cunningham said. “His energy is contagious. To have a guy like him, I know I have a mentor, somebody I can rely on, for life. I’m forever thankful for that.”
His NCAA Tournament wasn’t the best, but he kept OSU in games and brought the first March Madness win since 2008.
Cunningham presumably ended his college career with a Big 12 Player of the Year trophy, All-American honors and averaged more than 20 points per game.
“One of the greats,” said Boynton about remembering Cunningham at OSU.
However, Cunningham will be remembered in Stillwater for a long time not just as a player but also as a person. Even in games he didn’t play he was one of the loudest on the bench.
“He is a once in a lifetime person, not just a player, person,” Boynton said. “For all of the things that were possible in his approach to this, I couldn’t have asked for better.
“It was never about his draft status, it was never about his points, it was never about anything that was personal, everything he did every day was poured into our program. I hope he had as good an experience playing as I did coaching him.”
Cunningham ended his postgame press conference the best way he knew how. First by thanking all of those who covered him, and then one final message of , “Go Pokes” before departing to the locker room.
“It’s been a great ride,” Cunningham said.