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2014 SF Josh Cunningham likes Northwestern, but is just beginning his college search

The status of Josh Cunningham’s recruitment is so fluid, and so amorphous in its development, that when asked how many scholarship offers he’s received, the most accurate answer he could come up with was “a lot.” The number is somewhere in the double digits, he’s certain, and while he’s unable to make any distinctions among his choices, Cunningham knows two things about Northwestern: 1) The Wildcats are in his top 10; 2) he plans to visit Northwestern before making a decision.

Stronger conviction from Cunningham would be preferable, but Northwestern – who kicked off its 2014 class by four-star small forward Vic Law Thursday – will happily accept his noncommittal judgments. After all, Cunningham, a four-star forward on Chicago’s feted Mac Irvin Fire AAU team, could see his profile soar over the next few weeks as he participates in several name-brand grassroots events.

The first and most important is the Peach Jam, where Cunningham said Northwestern coaches promised to observe him. Cunningham knows what a strong performance at arguably the biggest event on the AAU circuit could mean for his national stature.

“I’m excited,” he said Saturday, speaking from the EYBL LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas, where he received an invitation to train and compete with 80 of the nation’s best high schoolers and 20 collegians.

Weekly contact with NU coaches has sustained Cunningham’s interest in the Wildcats over the past few months. Cunningham spoke highly of Chris Collins, and believes he would acquit himself well in the NU head coach’s motion-style offense.

“I feel like I’ve built a good relationship with the coaching staff,” he said. “And their style of play fits mine.”

The player-to-scheme fit cuts both ways, and especially so for Cunningham, who has spent months trying to shape himself into a small forward to prepare for an expected position switch in college. In high school, Cunningham played closer to the basket as a 4 or 5, but as his college search intensified, his position at the next level became a bigger priority. Cunningham needed to improve his shooting and his ball-handling to show coaches he could move out to the perimeter without missing a beat.

His position change is a process that continues to evolve; progress has come slowly.

“It hasn’t been easy,” he said. The time and effort his intended goal of developing a broader skill set has required is the most enjoyable part. “I enjoy being in the gym,” he said. “It’s demanding me to put more time into the gym to get better.”

The presence of five-star forwards Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander also contributed to his gradual move out of the paint. Their established starting positions in MAC Irvin Fire’s frontcourt was one obstacle. A clogged lane populated by two of the nation’s best  big men was an even bigger impediment Cunningham simply couldn’t overcome without making a few changes to his game.

“Because they’re so big, I really can’t be down there with them,” he said. “They clog up the lane, so I have to shoot mid-range, dribble the ball.”

Seeing Law commit to the Wildcats last week inspired confidence Northwestern might have a better chance at adding Cunningham and four-star point guard Tyler Ulis to the 2014 class, both of whom Law reportedly is friends with. Cunningham and Law speak frequently, but neither has broached the topic of Northwestern, and Law has not reached out to Cunningham since announcing his commitment Thursday.

Seeing Law verbal to Northwestern may not have strengthened his affinity for the Wildcats. It did check off one important reputational distinction Northwestern will try to cement as it tries to plant a stake into the surrounding Chicago recruiting hotbed.

“It shows they can get great players,” he said. “That they can do a pretty good job with their recruiting.”

In a month’s time, Cunningham may be forced to rethink the relative standing of every last offer already on deck. A number of high-major programs are showing interest, and with a few strong performances in July, his already long offer sheet – which includes Iowa, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Virginia Tech, St. John’s and Northwestern – could grow immensely.

“I’ll slice it down in August, after our last couple of tournaments,” he said.

After his list is whittled down, Cunningham may or may not keep the Wildcats near the top of his considerations. A score of new offers could even further compromise the Wildcats’ chances.

Before any of that plays out in real time, a campus visit and continued contact with coaches are the best possible affirmations Cunningham can offer.


The Profile
School: Morgan Park (IL)
Position: SF
AAU: Mac Irvin Fire
Stars: 4
Other offers: Bradley, DePaul, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina
Profiles: ScoutRivals
Notes: Top Chicago area player who likes NU; Knows NU commit Vic Law