Cade Cunningham

Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham points during a game on March. 1 in Stillwater, Okla. (AP Photo/Brody Schmidt)

Cade Cunningham’s time as an Oklahoma State Cowboy is done.

It’s no surprise for one of the best players in college basketball this year. The OSU star freshman is projected to be selected early in the 2021 NBA Draft.

That’s his next stop.

On Thursday morning, Cunningham made his decision to leave OSU early and declare for the NBA Draft official in the Cowboys' first in-person press conference. He did it aside OSU coach Mike Boynton and in front of dozens of media members.

“When the time came, I feel like it was something I had to do for my future and for my family’s future,” Cunningham said. “I thought it was the best thing to do and I’m excited to do it. I’m excited to step into the next chapter of my life and see how it’s going to go.”

Boynton kicked off the press conference with a joke in lieu of April Fools Day, saying he was going to the NBA to coach and Cunningham was taking his job. Then, Boynton got serious and talked positively about a player he’s recruited since his freshman season in high school.

“It’s time for him to go on and go to the next phase,” Boynton said. “We’re really proud of him. We’re thankful for the time he spent with us.

“…What we’re doing today is another small step for our program – to be able to recruit a young man like this and put him in position that he can achieve his ultimate dream of being a professional basketball player at the highest level. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be a great pro, because he’s already been a great pro, even as a freshman in college. We’re excited about this next step for him and his family, and we’ll be cheering for him forever.”

Last week, Cunningham was named the 2021 Wayman Tisdale Award, given annually to the best freshman in college basketball. That was one of the many awards he won in his single season in Stillwater.

Cunningham’s awards also include First Team All-America honors from the Associated Press, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, USA Today, the Sporting News and the USBWA.

The 6-foot-8 Arlington, Texas, native averaged 20.1 points per game shooting 43.8 percent from the field, including 40 percent from 3-point range. Cunningham also grabbed 6.2 rebounds and dished 3.5 assists per game this season.

“This year was a great year for me,” Cunningham said. “I’ve grown tremendously throughout the year from a personal and a basketball standpoint.”

Following the Cowboys’ loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Cunningham was asked if that was his final game as a Cowboy. His unsure response had some fans talking on social media about the possibility of Cunningham returning next year.

For Cunningham, it was a painful moment, because it meant his time playing college basketball was done and his time playing with his OSU teammates was over.

“There were so many high emotions in the moment,” Cunningham said. “I never wanted to take off the jersey after the game. It’s hard to make that decision in the moment, so I wanted to make sure my head was level.”

Cunningham’s next career move will be July 29 at the 2021 NBA Draft. Although his time in Stillwater is over, he hopes to return to watch the Cowboys.

“I’m always going to be a Cowboy for life,” Cunningham said. “I’m looking forward to coming back here and being able to support my squad whenever they play. Hopefully, I can sit courtside by then.”

Boynton quickly responded with a quip and a smile.

“I can say with pretty good confidence he can have whatever seat in here he wants,” Boynton said. “Today is about him.”

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