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The recruitment of 5-star Cade Cunningham should be over, but Kentucky and UNC aren’t giving up yet

When Mike Boynton added Cannen Cunningham as a full-time assistant coach to his Oklahoma State staff in June, the prevailing theory in college basketball was that the recruitment of 5-star guard Cade Cunningham, Cannen’s younger brother, was a wrap. Nobody knew if it would be a matter of days or weeks or months. But basically everybody assumed Cade Cunningham would eventually pledge his allegiance to the Cowboys, if only because there’s a long history of schools securing commitments from prospects after hiring close relatives.

It’s a move that’s always worked.

To that point, I’ve spoken with multiple recruiting analysts this week — and none can recall an example of a high-major program hiring the relative of a prospect, within a year or two of the prospect’s scheduled graduation from high school, and then failing to subsequently secure a commitment from said prospect. It is, historically, more of a sure thing than off-the-field issues with Antonio Brown. If you’re Larry Brown and you hire Danny Manning’s father at Kansas, you get Danny Manning at Kansas. If you’re John Calipari and you hire Dajaun Wagner’s father at Memphis, you get Dajuan Wagner at Memphis. If you’re Bill Self and you hire Mario Chalmers’ father at Kansas, you get Mario Chalmers at Kansas. If you’re Josh Pastner and you hire KJ and Dedric Lawson’s father at Memphis, you get KJ and Dedric Lawson at Memphis. (Note: Memphis and Kansas appear to be the hire-a-relative GOATS.) If you’re Cuonzo Martin and you hire Michael Porter Jr.’s father at Missouri, you get Michael Porter Jr. at Missouri. And, most recently, if you’re Andy Enfield and you hire Isaiah and Evan Mobley’s father at USC, you get Isaiah and Evan Mobley at USC.

Isaiah Mobley is already on campus. Evan Mobley, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2020, is committed to join him next season. And yet Cade Cunningham, nearly three months after his brother was hired at Oklahoma State, is still on the market. He visited OSU last weekend but did not commit. And he remains scheduled to visit North Carolina (Sept. 27), Florida (Oct. 5), Kentucky (Oct. 13) and Washington (Oct. 20) in the coming weeks. Even more notable is how UNC’s Roy Williams and UK’s John Calipari each made it a priority Monday to visit Cunningham at Montverde Academy in Florida on what was the first day of the recruiting period. It was a development that suggested what multiple sources have told CBS Sports — that Cunningham has promised the schools pursuing him that he’s not a done-deal to Oklahoma State, and that the schools that remain involved in his recruitment believe he’s being sincere.

Otherwise, what would be the point?

Do you think Hall of Fame coaches like Williams and Calipari would continue to spend time and resources recruiting Cunningham if they believed it was waste? Calipari, specifically, was burned just last year when he continued to recruit 5-star big James Wiseman even after Memphis hired Penny Hardaway, Wiseman’s high school coach, to replace Tubby Smith. So do you really believe Calipari would go down a similar road again so quickly unless he genuinely thinks things could turn out differently this time?

I don’t.

To be clear, none of this means Cade Cunningham won’t eventually end up at Oklahoma State; that probably remains where the smart money lies. But that it’s not done yet, and that some of the sport’s heaviest hitters believe they can prevent it from getting done, is fascinating on multiple levels.

It would be an unprecedented miss for OSU.

And what would it mean for Cannen Cunningham’s career?

In fairness to Cade’s big brother, he does have a legitimate basketball background. He played at SMU and spent last season on staff at Tulane. But let’s be honest: There’s no way he would’ve gone from the associate director of video operations at a bottom-tier AAC program to a full-time assistant at a historically strong Big 12 program if he weren’t related to a consensus top-two player in the Class of 2020.

That’s the truth.

Cannen Cunningham was hired at Oklahoma State to deliver Cade Cunningham to Oklahoma State. But can he actually do it? That’s currently the biggest question in recruiting circles. For what it’s worth, most believe he can and probably will. But the fact that he hasn’t already, and that some of college basketball’s big boys remain in pursuit, is an indication that this recruitment isn’t as over as history says it should be.

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