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Yesterday we finally got to see Cade Cunningham take the floor in college basketball and the freshmen lived up to the hype. 

His size and athleticism immediately jump off the screen in a way that reminds me of Ben Simmons at LSU, particularly in the open floor and his passing ability is already at an elite level. What excited fans and scouts most yesterday though was his jump shot. 

If there was ever a reason to worry about Cunningham’s game at the next level, it would’ve been his jumper. He showed an improved release and calmer approach yesterday though that had everyone watching envisioning greatness for years to come. 

That’s kind of the point though, isn’t it? So many of us got the opportunity to watch the potential number one pick we otherwise wouldn’t of. 

As highly as RJ Hampton and LaMelo Ball talk about Australia and as excited as many are for Jalen Green and others to play in the G-League, very few people will watch. Cunningham and the guys in college basketball this year on the other hand will have the opportunity to become household names.

Obi Toppin, Trae Young and so many other no-name guys were given the opportunity to take over ESPN and they did just that. That’s not even acknowledging a guy like Zion Williamson who took the basketball world over in his time at Duke, becoming a true must-watch superstar. 

For a league with so many television rating problems, it will never cease to amaze me how time and again guys like Toppin, Young and Williamson become real rating boosters going into the NBA because of college and yet they pour money into the G-League. Teams and scouts will have an easy time watching Green and the others on the Ignite team this season (if the G-League even plays) but mainstream sports fans? Best of luck with that. 

Cunningham, Brandon Boston Jr., Evan Mobley and other freshmen who debuted yesterday have the chance to enter the league as stars, something a league like this desperately needs. Furthermore, they will also get the opportunity to play in games where winning is valued. 

The G-League guys are essentially going to be playing in exhibition games where no one truly cares about winning, I’m sure they’ll build exclusively good habits there. Meanwhile, guys like Cunningham and Mobley on day one are playing intense games against guys who this is the biggest game they’ll ever play. 

You may laugh but Texas-Arlington’s Shahada Wells giving Cunningham’s Cowboys 21 points and forcing him to play in meaningful possessions down the stretch is invaluable. For a position like a point guard, those late-game moments, valuing the basketball, making clutch free throws, getting good shots can’t be replicated in anything other than an organic setting. 

Yesterday Cunningham got better and that’s always something to emphasize.

As he continues on this journey as a Poke, representing that school, you also can’t forget the importance of aligning with a school. Marcus Smart’s name got brought up all broadcast because he remains an icon in Stillwater and you may think that’s a ridiculous thing to care about but he will always have those people in his corner. 

His name and game will always resonate there in a way that the G-League team just can’t. 

I understand the value of money and have many problems with things the NCAA does but we need to stop acting like there isn’t anything in this system for these elite prospects. While Cunningham is on ESPN’s SportsCenter every night building a fan base, Green will be playing on Twitch with the rest of the G-League.

Diehard basketball fans will always find those names. However this is an increasingly saturated entertainment market so adding as many fans as you can matters. My parents know who Zion is because of college basketball and watched his first game in the NBA because of that influence. 

Cunningham will have the same opportunity to blow up, along with developing in a controlled environment where winning matters. We spend so much time talking about NBA legacies and ignore the ones these guys can build before they even arrive. 

Yesterday Cade Cunningham’s started and there’s value in that whether you like it or not.

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