What to know about Sam Cunliffe and next year’s roster

The University of Kansas just got some much-needed help at the perimeter for next season.

On Saturday, Arizona State freshman Sam Cunliffe announced that he’d be transferring to KU for the 2017-2018 season. Per NCAA guidelines, Cunliffe will need to sit out the first half of the season, but will be ready to go for the second half of the schedule. This is a huge boost for the Jayhawks, as they are likely to lose both Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and Josh Jackson (and maybe Devonte’ Graham), as well as senior Frank Mason.

Cunliffe comes from a Seattle, where he played basketball at Bishop Blanchet High School. As a senior, he averaged 21.6 points, 9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. For Arizona State, he was averaging just under 10 points per game with 4.8 rebounds. ESPN ranked him 41st in the top 100 recruits last year, and he was named the Seattle Times High School Player of the Year.

Cunliffe noted that he’d been having a tough time deciding between KU and Seattle University. He told Gary Bedore of The Kansas City Star, It was kind of hard to pick (KU) over Seattle, (because of) how close I am to coach (Cameron) Dollar. I’ve known him my whole life. That was hard.” He also mentioned that he was close with freshman center Mitch Lightfoot, from their time in high school All-Star games in the state of Arizona.

ASU coach Bob Hurley told reporters last summer that he thought Cunliffe could compete for Pac-12 Rookie of the Year. He said, I just think he could be special. He’s a guy that I would imagine would be competing for Pac-12 Rookie of the Year. He’s got polish to his offensive game. He scores at all three levels. He can shoot the three very effectively. He can stop because he’s 6-7 and can score over someone in the mid-range, and then he’s strong finishing way above the rim.”

For now, the 2017-2018 KU roster is not clear, but that is to be expected. Frank Mason and Landen Lucas are set to graduate, while Josh Jackson is a certainty to declare for the NBA Draft. Coming in are Cunliffe, Billy Preston, and Marcus Garrett, which would give Kansas two open scholarships.

Devonte’ Graham’s return is up in the air, and that depends a lot on what he does for the remainder of the season. The same could be said for Svi Mykhailiuk. If both bolt for the NBA, coach Self would have four scholarships to fill with recruits and transfers. Even if both opt to remain in school, the team would still have two scholarships available.

Right now, Mitch Lightfoot and fellow freshman Udoka Azubuike, who should be ready to go at next season’s start, should both see their roles increase in 2017-18. The biggest name to note just might be Malik Newman, who comes in essentially as a five-star recruit for Self. Newman was a top-10 player in the class of 2015 before signing at Mississippi State and transferring to KU after his freshman season. Next year, he figures to step right in Frank Mason’s spot as a starting guard.

Carlton Bragg and Lagerald Vick will, barring something unforeseen, be returning for their junior seasons, and they both figure to have significant roles on the team. And fans laboring through a frustrating year of frontcourt scoring for KU will love Billy Preston, a five-star power forward known for his offensive ability, who comes from Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.

As KU’s roster plans start shaping up, Sam Cunliffe is a very good add for the team. Cunliffe is a physical guard that boasts the versatility to play a variety of positions. His length and athleticism is similar to that of Lagerald Vick. He is great at driving in the paint, and he has an impressive three-point stroke. Though he will not be able to play until the second half of the season, Cunliffe seems to be pretty committed on working hard with the team, and making the right plays. Cunliffe told Gary Bedore that he would compare himself to Paul George. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, but everyone else seems to be singing his praise, so he may not be too far off.