INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Cade Cunningham has long prepared for this moment.
The Oklahoma State freshman played all season amid lofty expectations as a likely one-and-done prospect favored to becoming the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. So he’s ready for the spotlight on college basketball’s biggest stage as the top pro prospect in the NCAA Tournament — and beyond.
“I kind of always prepared myself for the spotlight just because I always wanted to be that guy,” Cunningham said. “I always told my brother, I think the best way I did it was imitating what that guy would look like in my head, being the top guy, since I was a little kid when I faced adversity or anything.
“I always told myself, ‘What would the top player in the world do?’” … I feel like continuously reminding myself of that kind of helped me eventually become that guy. Now I feel like I’m kind of ready for that spotlight.”
The 6-foot-8 guard was the nation’s top-ranked recruit and didn’t disappoint, becoming the Cowboys' first player named Associated Press first-team All-American earlier this week. He can shoot over smaller defenders and has smooth ball skills, averaging 20.2 points and shooting 41% from 3-point range entering Friday's game against Liberty.
“I’m sure there will be a little bit of debate,” coach Mike Boynton Jr. said of Cunningham’s chances of being the No. 1 pick. “But it really should be a pretty short debate. This one’s pretty clear.”
Here are some of the other top NBA prospects in the tournament:
EVAN MOBLEY, USC
The freshman 7-footer is regarded by many as the likely No. 2 pick behind Cunningham if both enter the draft.
The AP second-team All-American has been one of the country's best big men by averaging 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while ranking sixth nationally with 3.0 blocks. He enters the tournament with consecutive games with the same impressive line (26 points, nine rebounds and five blocks) and has already shown the potential to step outside (11 3-pointers the year).
JALEN SUGGS, Gonzaga
The highest-ranked recruit to sign with the Bulldogs is another AP second-team All-American and potential top-3 pick if he decides to go the one-and-done route.
The 6-4, 205-pound Suggs has been an every-game starter for the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, averaging 14.3 points and 5.5 rebounds for the unbeaten Zags.
His athleticism stands out after a high school career that included earning Mr. Football honors in the state of Minnesota.
“So far in his career, in football and basketball, everything — the bigger the moment, the better he is,” coach Mark Few said after Suggs earned MVP honors at the West Coast Conference Tournament.
MOSES MOODY, Arkansas
The 6-foot-6 guard joined the Razorbacks as 247sports' No. 45 national recruit. He enters the tournament as a top-10 prospect.
The AP newcomer of the year in the Southeastern Conference is averaging 17.4 points, but has finished with 28 points in three of his last five games after improving his off-the-dribble game.
“I think early on he got a lot of points off spot-ups,” coach Eric Musselman said. “I think he's elevated his game where now he's a great 1-on-1 player, he's a great isolation player. He's going to even be better as his game continues to grow off that."
SCOTTIE BARNES, Florida State
The five-star freshman is a lottery prospect with his playmaking and defensive potential packed into a 6-9, 227-pound frame.
The highest-ranked recruit in program history fit right in on the Seminoles' deep roster, averaging 11 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals. He has the versatility to play on the perimeter and run the offense or defend ballhandlers, but also the length and size to tussle in the paint.
KEON JOHNSON AND JADEN SPRINGER, Tennessee
The five-star freshman guards have elevated their games down the stretch.
They accounted for about 24% of the team’s scoring in the first nine SEC games, then nearly 43% in the last eight. And Johnson led Tennessee in scoring (16.5) and rebounding (9.0) in the league tournament.
The 6-5 Johnson is projected as a top-10 pick, while the 6-4 Springer is a late lottery prospect.
COREY KISPERT, Gonzaga
Save some room for an older guy on this list full of freshmen. The 6-7, 220-pound Kispert has blossomed as a senior into a strong first-round prospect.
Named an AP first-team All-American, he's elevated his scoring from a complimentary 13.9 points to 19.2 entering the tournament. He's also regarded as possibly the country's best shooter by shooting 54.4% from the field and 44.4% from behind the arc (fifth nationally).
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