STILLWATER, Okla. — When the dust settled and the players made their final decisions, the Oklahoma State men’s basketball program came out on top.
After the NCAA levied heavy sanctions on OSU on June 5, which included scholarship reductions and a postseason ban, there was much speculation key players would transfer out of the program.
In the end, only two departed: projected starting center Yor Anei and sparingly used forward Hiddie Roessink.
But the real prize here is No. 1 prospect Cade Cunningham’s decision to remain at OSU. The highly sought-after point guard is the crux of OSU’s top-5 recruiting class.
He’s the headliner, but it’s huge that OSU is retaining that entire class plus most of its incoming class.
“I hope that we’ve created a program where guys want to be a part of it, where they feel like they can have success with it,” OSU coach Mike Boynton told reporters earlier this week. “They’ll be challenged, they’ll be coached, they’ll be loved. I think (it’s) evidenced by the fact that even up until the NCAA announcement, we didn’t have anyone even considering not returning.”
That’s the crazy part. In an era where there are over 1,000 players transferring, these players are so committed to Boynton and the OSU program.
“It’s a testament to the kids that we have in our program and their families,” Boynton said. “But some of the work that the staff does when we get them here and showing them their value, that we’re going to help them get better, that we’re not just going to fall on empty words, that we’re really going to care about them as people when they get here.”
That’s how Boynton has put together and retained this impressive roster. Still, there are some realities to be faced.
A postseason ban, scholarship reductions and other sanctions could still be brought down if the appeal doesn’t go through.
But for now, Boynton said his mentality has remained unchanged.
“The sanctions don’t change how I recruit,” Boynton said. “My job is to make sure that I don’t have more than the allowed scholarship numbers when school starts in the fall. That’s really the only way I think about it.”
It’s true, the postseason ban, the scholarship ban, none of it has come into effect, yet. So Boynton is approaching it as if things are normal.
And with Anei and Rossink transferring out, there’s two open scholarship spots. One has been filled by Ole Miss transfer Bryce Williams and the other remains in the air.
“We’re still recruiting,” Boynton said. “There’s a chance we could fill that scholarship. I’m not necessarily trying not to fill the scholarship because I’m worried about the sanctions.”
Boynton is optimistic about how things are going to go. But the lack of front core depth certainly sticks out.
Even before the two transfers, OSU was certainly guard-heavy. Now the only true big men are Kalib Boone and Montreal Pena.
And for the record, Pena hasn’t even “officially” announced he’s returning. But Boynton said Pena rarely uses social media and said he’s confident Pena is returning.
Pena would be crucial depth, but Boone could be the big prize here. The talented big man appears ready to take a big leap forward as a sophomore after finishing out last season on a high note.
“I’m not sure there’s a limit on what he could become,” Boynton said. “... I mean, that kid has unbelievable potential. You’re right, his confidence is growing, the success he had as a freshman is one that I’m sure will spill over.
“The opportunity to play with a group of guys that he knows really well from last year, being comfortable in college basketball now and then being infused with, again, Cade’s a unique talent that can help him be even better will really put him in position where I’m not going to go too far, but I’m not sure he’s going to have to spend four years in college before he can go play professional basketball.”
That’s an excited sentiment for OSU fans worried about the loss of Anei.
Boynton acknowledged how much Anei’s loss hurts, but he said he’s not concerned about his team’s lack of front-court depth.
“I don’t want to discount having taller guys on your team,” Boynton said. “We want length and athleticism and all that. My job is to focus on what we have. I don’t look at this thing as a ‘what you don’t have and why you can’t be successful.’ We’ll find a way with the talent we have, with the versatility we have to put a successful system in place and give these guys an opportunity to have a lot of success as a group.”