On Monday evening, Kentucky head coach John Calipari paid yet another visit to 2020 No. 2 overall prospect Cade Cunningham, a massive development considering the 6-foot-7 guard is in the final stages of his recruitment.
Cunningham, who took an official visit this weekend to Washington, in addition to previous trips to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Florida, and Kentucky, is now finished with his allotment of official visits. After publicly stating he would like to get his decision over with prior to his senior season at Montverde Academy, along with setting a specific timeline/deadline of “late November,” things are expected to ramp up immediately.
But how did we get to this point? And more importantly, how did the Kentucky program establish itself as one of the favorites heading down the final stretch?
April 26-28, 2019: Nike EYBL
The 2019 Nike EYBL circuit tipped off in Atlanta, Georgia on April 26, with the event setting a record for the most ESPN top-100 participating prospects of all time.
One of the elite targets in attendance? 2020 five-star guard Cade Cunningham.
Cunningham, a 6-foot-7, 215-pound prospect out of Arlington, TX, had received interest from Kentucky in the past and the coaching staff had seen him play at several events, but this was the first time things got fairly serious on UK’s end.
And they certainly got to see an impressive performance.
In session one of the most competitive AAU circuit year after year, Cunningham was a man amongst boys. In four games of action, the elite guard prospect averaged 25.5 points on 62% shooting and 37% from three, doing just about everything you can think of for his Texas Titans team. He drove the basket at will, bullied defenders in the paint, brought the ball up the floor, rebounded, defended, and above all else, won. His Titans went 4-0 on the weekend, and looked dominant just about every time they touched the floor.
John Calipari, Kenny Payne, Joel Justus, and Tony Barbee all watched Cunningham at various points of the weekend.
John Calipari is here at Nike EYBL watching 2020 five-star guard RJ Hampton. Kenny Payne, Joel Justus, and Tony Barbee are also here on various courts. pic.twitter.com/cIyu8w1PaC
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) April 26, 2019
April 29, 2019: Kentucky offers Cade Cunningham
It didn’t take a single day following Cunningham’s elite performance at the opening session of the EYBL regular season for Coach Cal to extend a scholarship offer.
Kentucky joined the likes of Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Texas, LSU, and Florida as players to extend scholarship offers.
May 10-12, 2019 and May 24-26, 2019: EYBL season continues
Unlike session one, which took place during the NCAA Evaluation Period, sessions two (Indianapolis) and three (Dallas) of the Nike EYBL regular season were closed to coaches. While they were allowed to watch on a live stream online, they could not attend either event in person.
In eight games during this span, Cunningham averaged 24.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.75 assists, 1.25 steals, and 1.25 blocks per contest.
During this time, Oklahoma State buzz began growing louder, while Kentucky’s momentum – they once held 100% of Cunningham’s picks on his Crystal Ball on 247Sports – faded a bit.
May 30, 2019: Cunningham cuts his list to 10
The week after session three of the EYBL season in Dallas, the five-star guard trimmed his list down to ten schools.
The final contenders? Duke, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
Top 10 pic.twitter.com/iydefeQKaL
— Cade Cunningham (@CadeCunningham_) May 30, 2019
June 25, 2019: Cunningham’s brother, Cannen Cunningham, hired at Oklahoma State
Fast forward a little less than a month, and Oklahoma State announced the hiring of Cunningham’s brother, Cannen Cunningham.
Leading up to this announcement and immediately following, the Cowboys received 11 consecutive picks on the 6-foot-7 guard’s Crystal Ball, including from the likes of Evan Daniels, Andrew Slater, Brian Snow, and Jerry Meyer.
July 1, 2019: Cunningham says his brother’s hiring isn’t major deciding factor in recruitment
In an interview with Evan Daniels of 247Sports, the five-star guard said he’s still “very open to everybody,” even with his brother being hired at Oklahoma State.
“I don’t think it does [matter to me], very much,” Cunningham said. “I’m still very open to everybody. A lot of people feel like I’m going to announce my commitment soon or something, and that’s not the case. Obviously, I wanted my brother to take the job, it’s an incredible opportunity for him.”
In his eyes, while Oklahoma State remained as a solid option for him, it’d be a mistake for other schools to stop recruiting him based off this news alone.
“I still like Oklahoma State, obviously that’s a big factor in my recruitment, but if a school wants to stop recruiting me because of it, that’s their problem,” he said. “I’m still open, and I’m not choosing anybody right now.”
July 10-14, 2019: Cunningham dominates at Peach Jam
At the 2019 Nike Peach Jam Finals in North Augusta, SC, Cunningham stole the show once again.
In five games, the five-star guard averaged 24.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.o assists per contest, finishing No. 7 overall among scorers during the EYBL season.
During the hectic recruiting weekend, where hundreds of head coaches and assistants lined the courts to watch the nation’s best battle head-to-head, Cunningham again told reporters he was wide open in the recruiting process.
“When the news broke about [my brother’s] hiring, everybody was going crazy saying my recruitment was over,” Cunningham said. “I wanted my brother to take the job because he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever been around. It’s an incredible opportunity for him, and I feel like he’ll do great there.”
Like before, he added that if other schools decided to stop recruiting him, that’s their loss.
“The schools that have stayed solid with me have been great because our relationship has really grown,” the five-star guard said. “I’m not gonna ask any schools to stay in touch. That’s on them. I’m happy for my brother, and he’ll be happy for me no matter what I do. That’s all that matters.”
Calipari, Justus, Payne, and Barbee all watched Cunningham throughout the event, with at least one representative from Kentucky watching Cunningham every time he took the floor.
August 1, 2019: Cunningham cuts list to five
When the dust of Peach Jam and AAU season finally settled, Cunningham officially announced his final five schools in contention.
Those remaining on the list? Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma State and Washington.
Not long after the list cut, a source close to the Kentucky basketball program told KSR that while they were well aware of the Oklahoma State rumblings, they would “continue to monitor [Cunningham’s] situation” and would go “all-in” if the situation presented itself.
September 6, 2019: Cunningham officially visits Oklahoma State
After cutting his list to five, the next order of business was to schedule official visits in the coming weeks.
First up? The longtime favorite Oklahoma State Cowboys.
September 9, 2019: John Calipari visits Cade Cunningham
To start the fall recruiting period, Calipari could have gone anywhere in the country to visit any potential recruit or current commitment he wanted.
His choice? Cade Cunningham on an early morning trip to his school, Montverde Academy in Florida.
— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) September 9, 2019
September 15, 2019: John Calipari and Tony Barbee visit Cade Cunningham’s family
Less than a week after seeing the No. 2 overall prospect at Montverde, the UK coaching staff decided to visit the five-star guard’s closest family and friends for an in-home in Arlington, TX.
Kentucky’s John Calipari and Tony Barbee were in for an in-home visit with Cade Cunningham’s family on Sunday. Less than a week after seeing the 2020 No. 2 prospect at Montverde in Florida. pic.twitter.com/DVuAHEk0QJ
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) September 16, 2019
September 27, 2019: Cunningham officially visits North Carolina
After a brief break intermission, Cunningham made his second official, this time to Chapel Hill to visit North Carolina.
October 3, 2019: Tony Barbee visits Cade Cunningham
Just a day before his official visit to Florida, Kentucky sent assistant Tony Barbee to check in on their prized five-star guard target.
October 4, 2019: Cunningham officially visits Florida
Cunningham’s third official visit? Gainesville, FL to check out the Gators.
October 7, 2019: John Calipari visits Cade Cunningham
On the Monday immediately following Cunningham’s trip to Florida and just a week before his official visit to Lexington, sources told KSR that John Calipari made a special trip to Montverde Academy to see the elite five-star guard.
Sources tell KSR that Kentucky head coach John Calipari is meeting with 2020 No. 2 overall prospect Cade Cunningham today. Cunningham will take his official visit to Lexington this weekend.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) October 7, 2019
October 11, 2019: Cunningham officially visits Kentucky
Four days later, Cunningham took his official visit to Kentucky, where he attended Big Blue Madness alongside 2020 Kentucky commitments Terrence Clarke and Lance Ware.
After Big Blue Madness, the five-star guard stuck around and happily took pictures and signed autographs with Kentucky fans for over 15 minutes before a member of the UK staff had to usher him to the back.
Rupp Arena has nearly cleared out, but Cade Cunningham has hung around to take pictures with fans for 15 minutes. Kentucky staff eventually had to usher him to the back.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) October 12, 2019
October 13, 2019: Evan Daniels picks Kentucky for Cunningham
The day after the nation’s No. 2 prospect finished up his official visit to Lexington, recruiting insider Evan Daniels submitted a Crystal Ball pick for the 6-foot-7 superstar in favor of Kentucky.
With a 94.47% all-time success rate, including 100% in 2019 alone, it’s obvious Daniels doesn’t miss often.
And for him to go against the Oklahoma State trend, even when 100% of predictions were in favor of the Cowboys on his Crystal Ball, it was significant news.
October 18, 2019: Cunningham officially visits Washington
To close out his official visits, the 6-foot-7 guard took his fifth and final trip to Seattle to check out the Washington Huskies.
October 21, 2019: John Calipari visits Cade Cunningham
On Monday evening, Calipari took his fourth visit to see Cunningham and/or his family in six weeks.
2020 Kentucky head coach John Calipari is visiting 2020 five-star guard Cade Cunningham at his school this evening, KSR has confirmed.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) October 22, 2019
Looking at the list above, Calipari’s visit also marked the eighth time (at least publicly) the Kentucky staff met with Cunningham and/or his family at his school or home, hosted him for a visit, or watched him at a major Nike EYBL event since April alone. At the AAU events, you also have to factor in that the staff took the time to watch him play several times over the course of multiple days, not missing a single game .
This also doesn’t even include the calls and text messages the parties have exchanged during open recruiting periods.
In short, every single time Kentucky has legally been allowed to contact Cunningham – both in person or on the phone – host him or watch him play, they have done so.
With Cunningham in the home stretch of his recruitment, it’s apparent Kentucky has gone above and beyond to let the five-star guard know he is their top priority in the class of 2020. I’d venture to say the staff has never been more persistent and relentless as they have in this specific recruitment since Calipari has been in Lexington.
Will their efforts pay off? We’ll find out soon enough.
And if the Wildcats do come out on top, they have certainly earned the right to tap themselves on the back. They will have earned it.