STILLWATER – While the Oklahoma State basketball team was practicing on Eddie Sutton court, Mike Cunningham was running the Gallagher-Iba Arena stairs.
The graduate transfer guard from USC Upstate is the lone senior on OSU’s roster, someone who coach Mike Boynton brought in not only for his playing experience but leadership, as well.
During the past three seasons, Cunningham appeared in 96 games, tallying 1,181 points and dishing out 281 assists. He had hit 215 career 3s before transferring. He filled the stat sheet, but Boynton needed him as a leader.
Only problem was, he had to rehab because of a left hamstring injury. On a team with six freshmen, one of its leaders, albeit a new face to the program, was a few hundred feet above, circling the confines of GIA working to get on the court.
“(The injury) was very tricky because as a point guard, you have to be able to push the ball and get up and down the court,” Cunningham said.
After missing OSU’s first three games, he made his debut on Thanksgiving against Memphis. Cunningham scored eight points in 17 minutes of action. The next day in the Cowboys’ loss against defending national champion Villanova, Cunningham hit five 3-pointers. Against the Wildcats, he played 28 minutes, which was fourth on the team behind OSU’s three captains.
He has come off the bench in all three games, but his presence and experience are paying dividends to one of college basketball’s youngest squads.
“Finally seeing the old man out there was great,” captain Thomas Dziagwa said. “He always says he’s like 30, but he most definitely has young legs. It was great seeing him out there. He adds another piece to our team that makes us even more electric and dynamic.”
Cunningham and the Cowboys return to action Friday when they head to Minneapolis to partake in the U.S. Bank Stadium Classic. OSU (4-2 overall) faces Minnesota, a team which Boynton said will test OSU’s frontcourt.
Its backcourt, though, will continue to rely on its veterans. OSU has five players averaging double figures scoring through the first six games: Cameron McGriff, Dziagwa, Lindy Waters, Michael Weathers and Cunningham.
For Cunningham, sitting out the beginning of the season wasn’t ideal being it is his last year of eligibility, yet he knew it was important for him to reach his full potential as the year progresses.
“It was definitely hard,” Cunningham said. “But I felt it was the best thing for me to do, and that’s what the training staff thought was best for me, also, so I could be ready for the rest of the season instead of missing more games after that.”