Former Kansas men’s basketball guard Kyle Cuffe Jr., who played in two games during the 2022-23 season after redshirting KU’s national-title campaign, has decided to transfer to Syracuse, he confirmed to the Star on Thursday.
Cuffe, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound native of Harlem, New York, entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal on May 3.
Cuffe, who played six minutes in those two KU games (vs. North Dakota State and Omaha), redshirted in 2021-22 and practiced with the team during the Jayhawks’ national championship season. However, this past season he suffered a torn MCL (medial collateral ligament) and PCL (posterior cruciate ligament) in a knee during a mid-November workout and was unable to practice for most of the season.
“I’m really excited,’’ Cuffe told Syracuse.com. “Syracuse came late in the process, but it was one of those schools that you can’t overlook. It’s a big-time school. It’s got a lot of legendary people who went there and on their coaching staff.
“Syracuse recruited me out of high school, so I know what Syracuse has to offer,’’ Cuffe added. “It’s the family that I’m going to in their coaching staff and the team.’’
It has been a while since Cuffe played meaningful minutes in organized basketball.
He attended Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team from Blair Academy was able to play just two games in 2020-21. Cuffe averaged 25.0 points, scoring 28 and 22 points, respectively, in those games.
In 2019-20, Cuffe averaged 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Blair Academy posted a 24-3 record in 2019-20. He was ranked No. 56 by Rivals.com following his senior season of high school.
Cuffe’s dad, Kyle, was a forward at St. John’s from 2000-01 to 2003-04 and played professional overseas and in the G League.
“Kyle is as he appears to be. He is a nice sweet kid who happens to be gifted athletically,” KU coach Bill Self said last season. “He is still young. He should be a freshman. He came to school a year early. He is extremely talented. He is a great athlete. I think he’d agree he’s still learning the game the way we play it compared to what he was coming in as basically a high school junior. He will have a bright future playing.
“His attitude is a 12 when it comes to him trying to come back and be in a situation to practice even though he is going to redshirt and not play in games. I am proud of him. He knows we respect his mindset, how he’s come back from injury.”
Cuffe said last season that, when healthy, he has a 40-0 1/2-inch vertical.
“Just going all the way downhill, all the time, nonstop,” he said of his strengths during a Bill Self Hawk Talk radio interview last season. “I’m always trying to learn the game, like coach says, whether on defense knowing what spots to get to. I think my athleticism makes up for it,” he added of lack of height. My dad has taught me a lot because he’s been in some situations I’ve been in. Mentality wise we’ve had kind of the same thing.”
It hasn’t been easy for Cuffe to return from his injury.
“I actually look up to J-Wil a lot,” he said of former KU forward Jalen Wilson. “His freshman year he got hurt. He came back a different player. That’s what I’ve been trying to model myself as. He came back and his mindset changed. He improved to the player he is today. I want to be like that eventually and try to surpass that.
“I thought I’d be alone with this (recovery from injury). Everybody, Cheddar (trainer Bill Cowgill), Ramsey (Nijem, weight coach) they all have my back. My teammates, coaches, even friends outside basketball, everybody has my back. You don’t want to look at it (injury) as a bad thing but a blessing in disguise. If you have negative mentality that’s what you’ll give out. Be positive about it.”
Of his recovery he told Syracuse.com: “The knee is perfect. It won’t be a problem this season. I’ve been back playing for the past two months. It’s feeling good. I feel more confident than ever.’’
Of his time at KU, he noted last season: “I never used to watch film before coming to Kansas. The coaches ... we’d get in the film room to actually study my game and study other people to essentially get better and work on my development.”
The Jayhawks have lost Cuffe and seven other players to the transfer portal since the end of the 2022-23 season. The others are Zach Clemence (Santa Barbara), Zuby Ejiofor (St. John’s), Cam Martin (Boise State), Bobby Pettiford (East Carolina), MJ Rice (North Carolina State), Ernest Udeh (undecided) and Joseph Yesufu (Washington State.
KU, which has two scholarships left to give in recruiting, has added four players from that same portal: Parker Braun (Santa Clara), Hunter Dickinson (Michigan), Arterio Morris (Texas) and Nick Timberlake (Towson). The 10 scholarship players currently on the 2023-24 roster include the four portal players plus incoming freshmen Marcus Adams, Elmarko Jackson, Chris Johnson and Jamari McDowell, as well as returning starters KJ Adams and Dajuan Harris.
Syracuse.com reports that Cuffe is the fourth player to commit to Syracuse out of the transfer portal. Others are: JJ Starling (Notre Dame), Chance Westry (Auburn) and Naheem McLeod (Florida State).