Former Arizona State shooting guard Sam Cunliffe has decided to continue his college basketball career at Kansas.
Cunliffe, a 6-foot-6, 200 pound native of Seattle, who recently left ASU 10 games into his freshman season, on Saturday chose the Jayhawks over Georgetown and Seattle University.
“I just prayed about it and took my time, slept on it a few days, looked at all the pros and cons of it and decided it was the best fit for me. That was it,” Cunliffe said in a phone interview with The Star. He made an official visit to KU for the KU-Kansas State game on Tuesday.
“I think I fit in great,” Cunliffe added, noting he could play the “1, 2, 3 or 4” for the Jayhawks. “The way they play, everybody moves it. They just play good basketball. It’s what I want to be part of, to play with those guys every day in practice and force me to get better.”
Never miss a local story.
Cunliffe — he averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds a game while starting 10 games at ASU — will be able to enroll at KU, practice with the Jayhawks immediately and be eligible to play in games at the conclusion of first semester classes (of the 2017-18 school year) in December.
He said he made his decision on Saturday morning.
“(KU coach Bill Self) is very excited, very happy, very proud, he thinks I’ll do well here (at KU),” Cunliffe said, noting he is “really close with Mitch Lightfoot (KU freshman from Arizona who played in all-star games with Cunliffe).”
Cunliffe averaged 21.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists his senior season at state champion Rainier Beach High and was named Seattle Times high school player of the year.
Rivals.com’s No. 36-rated player in the Class of 2016 — he was the country’s 41st ranked player in ESPN’s Top 100 in 2016 — said it was difficult to turn down the recruiting pitch of Seattle coach Cameron Dollar.
“It was kind of hard to pick (KU) over Seattle, how close I am to Coach Dollar. I’ve known him my whole life. That was hard,” Cunliffe said, noting the last few weeks have been “very stressful” since he announced plans to leave ASU.
A year ago, Cunliffe told ozarkssportszone.com he has a similar game to the NBA’s Paul George.
“I just feel like we’re the same,” Cunliffe said. “I’m not as strong as him, but the way he shoots, handles, gets to the basket and his quickness… I like to model my game after him. And Kobe Bryant.”
Asked for comparisons, he told The Star: “I’d probably say a Gordon Hayward type, Paul George, too. I’m trying to make my own comparison.”
“I try to make the right play, make an open shot, create a shot, make the right pass, using my length and athletic ability to rebound,” Cunliffe said. “(I’m) trying to improve defensively. I think I can do a lot moving forward.”
Cunliffe was pursued in high school by ASU, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Gonzaga, Utah, Colorado and others. At ASU he scored a career-high 23 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and had five assists in a Nov. 23 victory versus The Citadel. He scored in double figures in five of his 10 games. He played some power forward in the early going, but was moved back to the perimeter which is where he prefers to play.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, ASU in the fall produced a marketing poster that featured Cunliffe with three of the top Sun Devil basketball players of the last 20 years — James Harden, Ike Diogu and Jahii Carson.
“I just think he could be special,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley told the Arizona Republic last summer. “He’s a guy that I would imagine would be competing for Pac-12 Rookie of the Year. He’s got polish to his offensive game. He scores at all three levels. He can shoot the three very effectively. He can stop because he’s 6-7 and can score over someone in the mid-range, and then he’s strong finishing way above the rim.”
He is planning on arriving at KU on Thursday.
“I’m very excited. I’ll be able to practice right away,” Cunliffe said. “They have a great group of guys. They are cool to be around. They are very good competitors.”
Star of documentary
Cunliffe has been subject of an Al Ward Productions documentary “Sam I Am” on YouTube.
Cunliffe’s dad, Mike, is a former Washington State long jumper who is coach for the Seattle Speed Track Club. In 2014 he was head coach of the Sierra Leone Athletics Federation’s world junior track and field team.
Cunliffe’s sister, Hannah, is a standout junior sprinter at the University of Oregon. She was the 2016 Pac-12 women’s track and field athlete of the year. She started her career at Oklahoma, but transferred to Oregon.
“I am very proud of her. She works very hard, does everything she can to be the best she can be. That’s something I admire,” Cunliffe said. “I love all my sisters. I’m really close to them all. I have a blessed life, having so much support and so many people that love me.”
Sam, who has seven sisters, once competed in track. In fact as a 10-year-old he set a world age group record in the long jump.
Once a Duke fan
Cunliffe attended Duke’s basketball camp as a youth — which is one of the reasons he was attracted to Arizona State. ASU coach Hurley is a former Blue Devil.
“I used to have Duke gear all over my house,” Cunliffe told ozarkssportszone.com. “My mom and everybody, it was just Duke, Duke, Duke. You have no choice but to know who he is. Watching the players like John Scheyer and those guys, you see them and Duke’s history and you have to know who (Bobby Hurley) is.”
Quite an athlete
High school teammate Keith Smith to the Seattle Times: “I’ve never seen an athlete that can jump like him. You don’t have to throw a good pass. He’ll make you look good.”