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Even with playing time tough to come by, Cunliffe found what he was looking for at KU

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Kansas guards Lagerald Vick, left, Sam Cunliffe and Marcus Garrett laugh over a video on Twitter while in the team locker room on Friday, March 16, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

Kansas guards Lagerald Vick, left, Sam Cunliffe and Marcus Garrett laugh over a video on Twitter while in the team locker room on Friday, March 16, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan. by Nick Krug

Former Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe, who announced on Monday that he would transfer before the start of the 2018-19 season, left the program in about as clean and classy a manner as imaginable.

And he did it with a genuine touch.

So often when these types of situations arise, the player leaving will team with a media relations staff member to cobble together some kind of quote that makes both him and the university look good but sounds an awful lot like so many farewell quotes that came before it.

You can spot them a mile away. They sound sterile, rehearsed and not at all like language anyone would actually use to convey such a decision.

And they don’t include phrases like “cool with” and “bad blood.”

But there’s a reason Cunliffe’s did. They came straight from the horse’s mouth and it was important to the Seattle native who now is in search of a new home to express himself in a way that captured exactly how he felt.

Cunliffe was leaving and choosing to do so on his own. And there’s little doubting that it was absolutely the right decision for him and his basketball future. But none of that made it an easy move.

Cunliffe loved it here. He loved the program. He loved the coaches. He loved the fans. He loved the uniform, the practice gear, the smell of the gym and even all of the aches and pains — physical and mental — that came with playing at KU.

Monday afternoon, shortly after his news became public, Cunliffe explained all of that — and more — with gleaming clarity during a phone call with the Journal-World.

When asked what KU memory jumps out as his favorite, Cunliffe could not narrow the experience down to one.

“Just being here and all the love and care I got from each and every one of the coaches and the faculty members,” he said. “With everyone around me, I just felt like I was being taken care of and that really meant a lot to me. That side of the bargain stood all the way.”

The basketball side of things worked out pretty well, too, even though Cunliffe, in a little less than two years on campus, played in just 15 games and barely registered as more than a blip on the KU basketball radar screen.

“Every time I stepped on the practice court, I really felt they were always trying to make me better even though I wasn’t even playing that much,” he explained. “Just learning how to play the game, doing everything and understanding how to look at things during the game from a different perspective was big. Coach Self brings so much knowledge and I just learned so much from him.”

So much, in fact, that Cunliffe, in a strange way, feels like leaving Kansas is what it will take to allow him to prove that he had what it took to play at Kansas.

His confidence, which has never been an issue for the former Top 40 prospect, never wavered during the phone call. He believes he can play. He believes he still has a lot of basketball ahead of him. And he believes that the work he will put in will lead to some amazing things in his life. He also sees that his time at Kansas — the lessons he learned and the ways he evolved while in Lawrence — is to thank for that.

“This whole experience has gotten me so ready to play at any level of college basketball I could possibly want to play at,” Cunliffe said.

More than that, though, it has shaped him into a new person, who respects the game and all of the experiences that come from it far more than ever before.

That, as much as anything, is what Cunliffe was searching for when he decided to leave Arizona State two winters ago. And he found it at Kansas, even if actually playing wasn’t part of the equation.

“I’ve grown here as a person,” he said. “And that means so much more to me than just saying that. Being here, you really feel like you get automatic respect just for wearing the jersey. You represent something so much bigger than basketball here. Kansas basketball is something people across the whole state, and really the whole country, really cherish. I’m very thankful to have been a part of it and I will always have so much love for this place.”

Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe, center, celebrates a 360 jam with teammates Mitch Lightfoot and Malik Newman at the end of the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

Kansas guard Sam Cunliffe, center, celebrates a 360 jam with teammates Mitch Lightfoot and Malik Newman at the end of the Jayhawks' practice on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan. by Nick Krug

Comments

Marcus Balzer 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Shame fans never got to see what he could have fully been. If Vick had not returned we might have seen a break out year for Sam. Thus is the case when you come to Kansas. Your spot is never guaranteed. All the best, young man. Go flourish else where!

Buck Bukaty 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The dude has an extra gear. After this down-shift I look for him to put up some big numbers somewhere. Godspeed!

Craig Carson 2 weeks, 6 days ago

have no doubt this kid had talent, but it seemed like last season he kept shooting himself in the foot when it came to playing time..every time he was out on the court he seemed lost..especially on defense..maybe he was pressing and felt the need to produce when he played so it caused him to overthink? losing him will sting this season since its one less shooter on a team that might need that..but it might also sting more next season if Self strikes out on the recruiting trail and we lose more players off this upcoming team than expected..I cant blame him though, if I had his talent and I knew I only have limited years of eligibility to play, I wouldnt want to waste my time sitting on the bench either

Marius Rowlanski 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Agree completely. I think that if Sam had started off by playing well, it might be a totally different story.

Once you lose your confidence, is not so easy to get it back.

Dan Burns 2 weeks, 6 days ago

I think the biggest limitation was coming in 2nd Semester. I ALWAYS felt he had what it took, just had some bad minutes and never got to work through it. I'd say he has at least the same talent as Vick or Newman.

Clarence Haynes 2 weeks, 6 days ago

He’s moving on carrying with him, the experiences gained in Lawrence. i hope that Sam can build on those experiences and become a better person. I have not had the privilege to meet him, but I wish Sam the best.

Marius Rowlanski 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Sam needs to get his confidence back. He most likely lost it while at Kansas. While at Arizona, Sam started as a freshman, putting up very solid numbers. Arizona State is a solid program but it's a huge leap to start starting at Arizona and then fighting for minutes at Kansas.

And yes, I know that Arizona State beat us in Kansas but it was there single best game of the season for Arizona.

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