Tag:Jared Cunningham
Posted on: November 20, 2011 12:09 pm

Cunningham ready to become an elite player

By Matt Norlander

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Is Jared Cunningham on the precipice of becoming a top-level player? If so, we need to look at what Oregon State’s capable of and how much of a run this team can make in the Pac-12.

Cunningham put up 37 points in overtime Saturday night, as Oregon State knocked off Texas 100-95. But the irony first: Oregon State coach Craig Robinson thinks he’s got a defensive team, not one that's capable of putting up 100 on a regular basis. 

The Beavers weren’t good defensively, but against a Texas squad that’s drastically different from what it was last year, Robinson’s team didn’t need to throw down an all-world effort on that end of the floor. It needed a hallmark performance from its alpha -- and that's what it got.

OSU’s trajectory lies in how complete of an offensive player Cunningham becomes. He’s already got an incredible pogo stick and pops his head in there around the rim, but if he develops a reliable jump shot and morphs into a threat from 17 feet and in, then this goes to another level as he does.

"Jared has evolved as a player since I saw him when he was a sophomore (in high school) and I was at Brown and trying to recruit him before he blew up,” Robinson said. “He has just come a long way. The reason is because he is extremely receptive to coaching. He wants to get better and what you saw out there was a culmination of his hard work. We get to see it all the time out west. He does everything for us. He guards the best guy. He scores points. He makes assists. He makes his foul shots. The magnitude of what he had to do today, on this stage and in this tournament against this team, is big time. And it's getting to be a regular thing with Jared."

Cunningham took a hit to the mouth in overtime. He didn’t want to come out, of course; he did his best to prevent blood from dripping on his jersey. He's tough, smart, the kind of player Robinson knows is special.

“I’m very proud of the team,” Cunningham said. “We all believe in each other, we’ve got confidence in each other and we want to do well.”

Was Saturday night more about Texas or Oregon State? I’m inclined to believe the latter, because it feels like Robinson’s truly going to rise to the next level of capability and positive result with this group.

“Getting a hundred on them … that surprised me more than anything,” Robinson said.  He added, in terms of getting a win over UT and what it means to his regime. “In our program, this is near the top. Don’t’ get me wrong, this isn’t the same Texas team. It feels like they lost 15 pros. They had more pros on the bench—it was unbelievable. But this was a big win for us this season, and one of the bigger wins for the program.”

Photo: AP
Posted on: May 12, 2011 10:28 am
Edited on: May 12, 2011 11:08 am

Cunningham brings star power to down Pac-12

Posted by Eric Angevine

We've talked before about how downright mediocre the newly-named Pac-12 is likely to be this season, as the talent drain that has dogged the league for the past few years continues. Star players are leaving early from Seattle to Boulder, and that's taking a toll on chemistry and experience levels at programs that were once locks to not only make it to the NCAA tournament, but advance to the second or third weekend with regularity.

Weakness amongst the traditional powers could signal opportunity for the league's also-rans in 2011-12, though. Oregon State, which suffered through an 11-20 (5-13) season last year, can set higher expectations based on one simple factor: their best player is still in town.

That player is Jared Cunningham, who would likely be completely unknown outside of Corvallis if he hadn't done this:

In a recent interview with Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic, Cunningham admitted that that one moment had pretty much defined his season, and that it almost didn't happen. "I'm a little surprised," Cunningham said. "I was surprised I even got the dunk. That game was amazing. We pulled it out, and everybody's been talking about the dunk ever since. It feels like it just happened yesterday."

Rather than shrink from the pressure of carrying his team, Cunningham is embracing his role as a potential breakout star in the expanded Pac-12. His Twitter account is full of aspirations and inspirations (and descriptions of the training table food in Corvallis, but I digress). "How high do you have to be to jump over a cloud?... Ima try to accomplish that one day" was one recent favorite, followed just moments later by "I need to add an Allen Iverson crossover to my game. Time to watch some film."

That's big dreams and hard work wrapped up in a package with astonishing natural talent. No telling how long the Beavers will have the 6-foot-4 junior-to-be, so it's time to figure out what head coach Craig Robinson can do to support his budding superstar.

Robinson has a couple of models he can look to from last season's ten-member version of the conference. Neither matches up exactly, but each scenario can prove somewhat instructive. The first is Washington State, where 6-6 Klay Thompson was clearly the player to watch. Thompson had Faisal Aden and DeAngelo Casto scoring around 12 points per game, and Casto's rebounding prowess backing him up. That was good enough for a .500 finish in the league.

The second, more desirable model is the Arizona scenario. With the amazing Derrick Williams as the only obvious scoring threat on the team, head coach Sean Miller was able to sell the rest of the team on a support-by-committee approach, with MoMo Jones' steady but unspectacular hand guiding the team and making sure Williams got the ball when and where he needed it. That approach - in defiance of conventional wisdom that holds that a strong team needs three scorers - led to a 14-4 finish and an Elite Eight run.

Can Robinson reasonably expect to do either? The Arizona scenario seems out of reach. Cunningham is talented, but comes nowhere near the unstoppable inside-out force that Williams brought to bear. Even if he could, OSU's cast of low-scoring support players doesn't seem to be on the same level as the likes of 'Zona's Jones, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jesse Perry. OSU's second-leading scorer, Calvin Haynes, has graduated, and that's not really terrible news. Haynes put on a miserable shooting performance last season, and didn't really make up for it in any other aspect of his game.

That leaves a whole pile of adequate scorers who need to step up their game. The Beavers had six players averaging right around seven points per game last season, and almost nothing else behind that. The worst news is that one of those players was 6-9 Omari Johnson, who is out of eligibility. That not only takes a potential scorer out of the mix, but also removes his team-leading 6.2 rebounds per game. The best bet to take on that role is rising junior Joe Burton (the guy who missed the shot that Cunningham famously jammed home), who averages 7 points and 5.6 boards per game at a rather bulky 6-7.

Aside from that, the team is small (5-8 Ahmad Starks is the second-leading returning scorer), young (seldom-seen Kevin McShane is the only returning senior) and can't hit the broad side of Coos Bay (42.7 percent from the floor as a team). Recruiting isn't likely to bring much relief unless 6-9 Senegalese import Daniel Gomis and virtually unknown 6-4 Euro guard Challe Barton learn very quickly indeed.

One thing we do know is that Cunningham can score. "Kiss the sky" dunks aren't the sort of points that come along very often, though, so it's incumbent on his teammates to learn how to help him out in every way possible. One skill that Cunningham brings to the table is great defense - he averaged nearly three steals per game last season. Unless he's expected to put each one of those takeaways in the basket himself, he's going to need to feel like someone on the team can accept an outlet pass and do something positive with the dang ol' orange roundie. A tough, dedicated rebounder and sharp point guard play could at least put the Beavs more in the middle of the Pac-12 instead of the bottom. That would at least be progress, and without progress, Craig Robinson is likely to be a goner before too long.

Oregon State has a potential gem in Jared Cunningham. Craig Robinson can increase the overall value of that gem by finding the right setting to enhance its natural shine.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com