Kansas junior guard Sam Cunliffe rejoiced on June 29 when he heard the news that his buddy, Lagerald Vick, had decided to return to KU for his senior season.
“He’s one of my better friends. I was excited, happy just to have my guy back,” Cunliffe said Monday afternoon in an interview with The Star.
Vick’s presence, though, provided a crowded perimeter at practice, ultimately leading to Cunliffe’s announcement Monday that he will leave KU for a second transfer destination. He started his career at Arizona State, exiting the Pac-12 school after first semester of the 2016-17 season.
“As we started practicing (July 5) and things started shaking out how it might look during the season, I started realizing, I could kind of tell I was not going to get as much (playing time) as I want,” Cunliffe said.
“That’s fine because Coach’s job is not to please me. His job is to win games. If I would not be a big part of that (2018-19 rotation) or ready to be that, that’s fine. I can go somewhere else and wish everyone the best.”
Cunliffe — a 6-foot-6 guard from Seattle who averaged 4.9 minutes and 1.9 points in 15 games in 2017-18 after becoming eligible at the semester — saw a guard group of Vick, Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, Charlie Moore, Marcus Garrett, K.J. Lawson and Ochai Agbaji and figured minutes might be precious to come by.
“I’m going into my junior year. I feel I’m trying to take this game as far as I can. For me to be able to do that, I don’t feel I will be able to show everything I can do on the court just with there being so many guys,” Cunliffe said.
It’s conceivable Cunliffe could have earned some minutes had Vick elected to turn pro. The Memphis native initially declared for the NBA Draft but did not contract an agent, thus was able to return to campus for a final season.
“I feel like he’s going to be a senior, a guy who has been here. Coach likes to play a certain way. He (Vick) has been here longer, gone through more games. I knew even if I was Coach who I’d go with in that situation. I saw the writing on the wall a little bit,” Cunliffe said.
“I talked to Coach (on Monday). He was cool about it. he told me he’d support me and try to help me the best he can. And I’ll support Kansas. I don’t have one bad thing to say about anything that’s happened here.”
Cunliffe said his release will allow him to attend any school outside the Big 12.
“I wouldn’t have done that anyway,” he noted of perhaps transferring to another league school. “Whoever wants to hit me up can … if anybody wants to, they can contact me.”
He is not considering playing outside Division I, where he’d be eligible right away.
“I can’t speak where I plan on going but I’m almost certain it’ll be Division I,” Cunliffe said. “I’ve got to sit one year and can play two.”
Coach Bill Self, in his meeting with Cunliffe, said he understood the guard’s concerns about playing time.
“Even though we hate to see Sam leave, we totally respect his decision,” Self said. “Sam has been terrific since he’s been here. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a guy that has put forth the effort and it hasn’t translated to playing time for him yet. I respect this because the opportunity for him to impact another program would probably be greater now, than it would be a year from now. We wish him the best. We’ll always be a fan and pull for him.”
Cunliffe started all 10 games played at Arizona State in the fall of 2016. He averaged 25.4 minutes and 9.5 points per game. He had a career-high 23 points versus The Citadel.
Now he will go through the transfer process again, sitting out next season at his new school while KU takes the court as the preseason No. 1 team as determined by various outlets.
“It is what it is. I know they are going to be great,” Cunliffe told The Star. “I wish them the best. I believe wherever I go people are going to see (what he can do).”
He said he is convinced he’s made the right decision. That will help him as he awaits eligibility at his next stop.
“I’ve had to make a lot of decisions in life,” Cunliffe said. “I know when you are making the right decision, no matter what it is, it’s easier. I’ve got a lot of friends, people here I care for. I know as far as my basketball, how that goes, this is best for that. No matter how my emotions are, I know I’m making the right choice. I can live with it. It’s going to be hard obviously. I’ve got a lot of ties here now.”