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Cade Cunningham Affirms Mike Boynton’s Familial Connection with His Players

How a trip to his home helped Boynton land Cade.

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Despite a cloud of NCAA sanctions including a postseason ban, Cade Cunningham, like the rest of Oklahoma State’s touted 2020 signing class, reaffirmed his commitment to Boynton and OSU in late June.

It was a coup about as impressive as the one he achieved when he landed Cade’s original commitment last November. Whether the fourth-year head coach, who has yet to make an NCAA Tournament appearance, is allowed the opportunity to do so this year or not, Boynton beat the ban.

On Wednesday, Cunningham fielded questions via webcam, and there was a lot of ground to cover. The new face of OSU’s program said all the right things, and did so thoughtfully, as he navigated the topics of NCAA sanctions, COVID-19, the NBA and even the polarizing MJ vs. LeBron debate.

But he kept coming back to one talking point, his relationship with Boynton and the strong connection he witnessed between OSU’s head coach and his players first-hand.

“I think the biggest thing was the sense of family with the team,” said Cunningham. “I feel like Coach Boynton, out of all my visits — you know all five schools that I visited were great programs and had a lot of great things going — but the thing that was different for me was Coach Boynton is so family-oriented.”

Those other four visits included prominent hoops programs like Florida and Washington as well as blue bloods Kentucky and North Carolina. Each school and coach, no doubt, rolled out the red carpet for the blue-chipper, but it was a trip to Boynton’s home that ultimately helped sell Cade.

“The team, when they were on my visit, we all went to his house and the team knew every inch of the house like they’d been there a thousand times,” Cunningham said. “You can tell, on your visits, you can tell when a team is uncomfortable like ‘We don’t ever do this. Why are we taking this time so special for this recruit?’ You can tell. The team was acting like ‘This is what we do and I guess Cade is here this time.'”.

I love that. 

Cunningham said those connections with a team and a staff make up a part of the recruiting process that most people don’t understand or know about.

“I feel like at Oklahoma State I was going to be more comfortable here than at any of the other schools that I was considering,” said Cunningham. “All those schools are great programs and I feel like I could have been successful at all of those schools but being comfortable and wanting to go to practice at 5 a.m. with these guys and being able to run suicides with guys that I’ve know for a long time and I know are going to have my back, I feel like all of that stuff makes a difference.

“Having teammates like this and having such as staff like I have now, I feel all of that played a big role into it and I’m happy with my decision.”

From his introductory press conference to now, Boynton has constructed the persona of a genuine, players-first leader who treats his team like family. It’s the stuff of coaching cliché and, I’m sure, plays well in a recruit’s living room. But you can’t fake it for long, and definitely not to the 18- and 19-year-olds that are around you every day.

Despite the NCAA, the uncertainty of an appeals process — and the uncertainty that looms over all of college sports — Boynton was able to turn what seemed like a worst-case scenario into probably the best-case scenario, and he did it by being himself.

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