Saying goodbye to Flight
It was a tough day in Corvallis on Monday when Oregon State‘s prolific junior guard, Jared Cunningham, decided he would forgo his senior year and declare for the upcoming NBA Draft. Similar to the reaction felt when Jacquizz Rodgers bolted for the NFL, OSU fans are stunned to hear of this news, but shouldn’t be surprised.
Cunningham’s legacy will be forever ingrained in the Oregon State history books, and there should be no doubt that his jersey will be retired, and lifted up in to the rafters of Gill Coliseum, right next to Gary Payton, AC Green and Mel Counts, among others.
He holds 11 OSU records, made the All PAC-12 Defensive team in two consecutive years, led the PAC-12 in steals in his sophomore and junior years, and this list could go on and on.
Jared impacted the game in more ways than one and this is what made him so valuable as a Beaver.
But will that make him valuable as an NBA player?
Cunningham’s stock may be high around Corvallis, but the big question is whether or not his stock is high on a national level. Choosing to involve himself in a draft loaded with potential, Cunningham isn’t necessarily a lock to go in the first round.
While mock drafts have teams snagging him in the mid to late 2nd round, don’t be quick to think this is a bad thing quite yet.
While the potential is there for Cunningham to be a first rounder if he returned for his senior year, the NBA saw a somewhat similar situation play out in last years draft for someone in Jared’s position.
University of Washington junior guard Isaiah Thomas decided to forgo his senior year last Spring, and declared himself eligible for the 2011 NBA Draft. At the time, Thomas decided not to hire an agent, and while that sometimes means a player is just testing the water, Thomas made it known he wouldn’t be returning to UW for his senior season.
Thomas was picked by the Sacramento Kings with the last pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, and up to this point is, arguably, outplaying the Kings 10th overall pick (traded to them via the Bucks) Jimmer Fredette.
What does this mean for Cunningham?
What this means is that regardless of where Cunningham goes, if he finds the right system, and is given ample opportunity to display his skill-set, it won’t matter where he’s taken in the draft.
He said in the press conference announcing he was leaving that it had always been a dream of his to play in the NBA and that he was ready to pursue that dream. So can you really blame the guy for bolting when he did?
The only downside to his decision is what it entails for OSU Hoops moving forward, and who may be the one to fill the giant void left by Cunningham.
Where do Craig and company go from here?
Starks has seen a bit more success at the college level, as OSU saw his level of play greatly improve during his sophomore campaign. Averaging 12.1 points per game, good for 21st in the PAC-12, Ahmad Starks showed Beaver Nation glimpses of the player he could one day become.
Starks made 79 three pointers, best on the team, finishing just three triples shy of tying the single season record set by Gary Payton. Ahmad did tie the record for most three point attempts (213) with Payton, and saw his steal total increase, from his freshman year, by 40 steals (18 as a freshman to 58 as a sophomore).
While he may not have the acrobatic athleticism displayed by Jared Cunningham, Starks does have the potential to be a high scoring threat with his ability to drop three after three.
Roberto Nelson, on the other hand, had a hard time playing up to his potential all year long. Don’t get me wrong here, there were stretches where Nelson displayed the type of raw basketball talent that made him such a highly touted college recruit, it just wasn’t there all year long.
For Nelson to help fill the Cunningham void, he’ll need to display that incredible talent on a consistent basis.
What we do know is that next year will be the start of a brand new era of college hoops in Corvallis.
The departure of Jared Cunningham will sting for a few weeks, but once Craig gets his team back in to the gym and preparing for life without Flight, things will start to look up once everyone begins to find their role.
They will certainly be tested right out of the shoot as Oregon State will participate in the 2K Sports Classic this coming November. OSU will host a set of first round games before advancing to semifinal play taking place at Madison Square Garden.