INDIANAPOLIS (USBWA) – Oklahoma State point guard Cade Cunningham, a true freshman who electrified the Big 12 Conference and led the Cowboys’ late-season surge to their first NCAA Tournament win since 2009, is the winner of the 2020-21 Wayman Tisdale Award, honoring the National Freshman Player of the Year based on voting by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
The lone freshman on USBWA’s 2020-21 All-America first team, Cunningham led the Big 12 in scoring at 20.2 points per game and was a nine-time recipient of the Big 12 Player and/or Newcomer of the Week honor, the most by any player this season and the most in school history. A USBWA All-District VI selection, he is just the fourth Big 12 player to sweep the conference’s player of the year and freshman of the year awards and was the second-highest-scoring freshman nationally.
Cunningham won the Tisdale Award over three other finalists, all fellow USBWA All-Americans: Michigan center Hunter Dickinson, USC forward Evan Mobley and Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs. He is the fifth Big 12 player to win the Wayman Tisdale Award and the 22nd USBWA All-American from OSU, its first since Jawun Evans in 2017.
The award is based on regular-season performance. But Cunningham helped take the fourth-seeded Cowboys into the NCAA’s second round, falling Sunday night to Oregon State 80-70 to finish at 21-9 on the season. His 24 points against Oregon State playing all 40 minutes included four three-pointers. He scored 15 points in OSU’s first-round win over Liberty, including nine straight in the final minutes of its 69-60 win.
He finished the season averaging 20.1 points on 43.8 percent shooting, with 62 three-pointers on 40.0 percent shooting outside the arc, 6.2 rebounds per game, 132 free throws made on 84.6 percent accuracy, and a team-high 94 assists and 43 steals. Cunningham is Oklahoma State’s first USBWA All-American since Marcus Smart in the 2012-13.
He joins a trio of previous USBWA National Freshman of the Year Award winners – Smart (2013), Texas’ Kevin Durant (2007) and Kansas State’s Michael Beasley (2008) – in an exclusive group of players to also be chosen as the Big 12 Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the same season. He became OSU’s all-time leading freshman scorer during the NCAA Tournament finishing with 544 points, only the program’s third to score 500 points in a season. Should Cunningham declare his eligibility, he is expected to be among the top picks in the 2021 NBA Draft.
The Wayman Tisdale Award is voted on by the entire membership of the association. The USBWA has chosen a national freshman of the year award since the 1988-89 season. It was named the Wayman Tisdale Award in the 2010-11 season in honor of the late three-time USBWA All-American at Oklahoma and the first freshman to receive first-team All-America honors from the USBWA.