Once-heralded prospect Sam Cunliffe leaves Kansas in search of more playing time

Yahoo Sports
Kansas’s Sam Cunliffe (3) goes up for a shot during a practice session for the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Kansas’s Sam Cunliffe (3) goes up for a shot during a practice session for the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Friday, March 30, 2018, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Unable to make the impact he envisioned when he arrived at Kansas about a year and a half ago, Sam Cunliffe is leaving the program.

The once-heralded prospect announced Monday afternoon that he will transfer in hopes of finding a program where he can carve out a bigger role.

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Cunliffe appeared in only 15 of 31 games last season after he became eligible to play for Kansas in mid-December. The 6-foot-6 guard logged 4.9 minutes per game, averaged 1.9 points and .6 rebounds and did not score in double figures in a single game for the Jayhawks.

“After the season I was exploring my options, trying to do what’s best,” Cunliffe said in a release. “I wasn’t for sure if I wanted to go but I needed see it out and go until I came to a clear decision. After going through (summer) workouts with the team and talking with the coaches and my family, we all agreed that this is the best decision for me, to go play somewhere else. I know now having gone through this process.”

A consensus top 50 prospect rated as high as 36th nationally by Rivals.com, Cunliffe was expected to be the centerpiece of Arizona State’s decorated 2016 recruiting class when he signed with the Sun Devils. He started all 10 games he played at Arizona State and averaged 9.5 points and 4.8 rebounds before abruptly opting to transfer barely one month into his freshman season.

While Cunliffe insisted he enjoyed his time at Kansas, his decision to join the Jayhawks backfired to an extent because he couldn’t crack the rotation.  He spent all of last season buried on the Kansas bench behind fellow wings Malik Newman, Svi Mykhailiuk, LaGerald Vick and Marcus Garrett.

What likely cemented Cunliffe’s departure was the return of Vick, who originally declared for the NBA draft with the intent of hiring an agent before reversing course and returning to Kansas. He will be a pillar of a perimeter corps that also includes Garrett, heralded freshmen Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson and impact transfers Charlie Moore and K.J. Lawson. 

“Even though we hate to see Sam leave, we totally respect his decision,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement. “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.”

Now Cunliffe is free to leave in pursuit of a third school, one where he can make more of an impact on the floor than he did at Kansas.

It’s unclear where the Seattle native will go, but he should have plenty of options despite his rocky college career thus far. The knack for attacking the rim and scoring at all three levels that Cunliffe flashed in high school makes him a good fit for a mid-tier Pac-12 program that favors a free-flowing, up-tempo system and has playing time available at wing.

In a cruel twist of fate, that sounds a lot like the Arizona State program that Cunliffe probably should not have left in the first place.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at jeisenb@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!

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