Oklahoma State Basketball: Where is Cade Cunningham among OSU greats?

After Cade Cunningham’s official declaration for the NBA Draft, where does he belong among the greatest players in Oklahoma State basketball history?

It’s hard not to be as effusive as possible when describing what Cade Cunningham has done for the Oklahoma State basketball program, even if he stayed (as expected) for just one year.

He led OSU to its first NCAA Tournament win since 2009. He became only the second Cowboy ever to win Big 12 Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season, after Marcus Smart in 2013. He became the first Cowboy to be named a first-team All-American.

He averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game en route to maintaining his status as the consensus No. 1 NBA Draft pick for the 2021 summer. Against teams like eventual No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed Baylor in the Big 12 tourney, he tallied 25 points, eight rebounds, and five assists in a Cowboy win. In a close win (one of two) against archrival Oklahoma, he scored 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

So, it’s clear that Cunningham has earned his shares of accolades during his brief time as a Cowboy. But where does he belong among OSU’s greats?

Sure, Cunningham would instantly become an OSU legend if he were to be selected No. 1 overall. The highest drafted Cowboy was Bob Harris in 1949, the No. 3 overall pick to the Fort Wayne Pistons. No other OSU player has ever been drafted among the top top five selections.

Cunningham’s points-per-game average (20.1) ranks at eighth-best in OSU history. He averaged more than four turnovers per game, though. He gained (even more) fame nationally for his late-game heroics, which must be considered after checking a box score.

All in all, I accept considering Cunningham among the Top 10 all-time Cowboys to ever play the game.

But I can’t go beyond that. He met the outlandish expectations upon entering Stillwater, sure, but he failed to lead the Cowboys to postseason success. He became the first Cowboy to named as a first-team All-American, but he failed to get two NCAA Tournament wins.

If you don’t remember the Final Four in 1995 with Big Country, you could at least conjure a memory of John Lucas, III hitting the game-winning shot against St. Joseph’s to seal a Final Four spot in the 2004 Final Four. I’ll never forget where I was that night.

And that’s my point about Cunningham’s legacy at OSU. He was a great player, among the nation’s best, but the Cowboys failed to advance as far as expected under his captaincy (a second round appearance). Therefore, I will unceremoniously dub him as one of the Top 10 players all-time in OSU history, but no further.

It’s hard to place him past Bob Kurland, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, Desmond Mason, John Lucas, III, and Marcus Smart, after all, considering that Cunningham stayed for just one season.