Kansas Jayhawks guard Kyle Cuffe Jr. (5) shoots against North Dakota State Bison guard Luke Yoder (5) during the second half at Allen Fieldhouse on Nov. 10, 2022.
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Kyle Cuffe Jr., who played in a total of two men’s basketball games the past two seasons at Kansas after a COVID-impacted year limited his Blair Academy team to two games in 2020-21, entered the NCAA transfer portal on May 3 unsure if there would be much interest from other programs.
“He bet on himself,’’ Kyle Cuffe Sr., a former St. John’s standout who is Kyle’s dad, told Syracuse.com Thursday after Cuffe Jr. signed scholarship papers with Syracuse of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Kyle Jr. told On3.com he chose the Orange over over mid-majors Richmond, Tulane, Pacific, Grand Canyon, Western Kentucky and New Mexico State.
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“I can’t take credit for anything in terms of him jumping into the portal. He said, ‘Dad, whatever happens, I’m comfortable with the decision.’ He wanted to show that he’s capable of playing at the highest level,” Cuffe Sr. added of his son.
Cuffe, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound third-year freshman-to-be from Harlem, New York — he redshirted during KU’s NCAA title season (2021-22) then suffered a season-ending knee injury after two games in 2022-23 — would have had to beat out a plethora of guards for playing time had he remained at Kansas.
His path to playing time at Syracuse perhaps will not be as difficult — if Syracuse sophomore-to-be guard Judah Mintz keeps his name in the 2023 NBA Draft.
If Mintz turns pro, Cuffe, the No. 111-rated player in the recruiting Class of 2021 by Rivals.com, will be part of a backcourt that consists of fellow transfers JJ Starling, formerly of Notre Dame, and Chance Westry, formerly of Auburn, plus returnee Quadir Copeland.
“I feel our backcourt is going to be real scary,” Cuffe Jr. told Syracuse.com. “Judah’s my boy too,” he added. “I’ve known him since I was little. If he comes back that only adds more value to us and makes us that much better.’’
Cuffe, who tore both his MCL and PCL in his knee on a non-contact play while running the court at practice in early November, returned to practice without having to undergo surgery late in the 2022-23 campaign.
“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,” he told Syracuse.com.
“I think the way he handled it, though, showed his character,’’ Cuffe Sr. told Syracuse.com. “He’s tough.’’
Cuffe Sr. said he never asked his son to play for his alma mater, St. John’s. The team now is coached by Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.
“Him going to Syracuse, it’s his journey,’’ Cuffe Sr. told Syracuse.com. “My journey was to St. John’s. His was going to Kansas and now Syracuse.’’
Cuffe has time to enter elite company
Cuffe has four years of eligibility remaining in college. If Syracuse reaches the Final Four during his career, Cuffe would become just the third player in college basketball history to be part of a Final Four roster with different teams.
The others: Steve Krafcisin (1980 Final Four with Iowa; 1977 Final Four with North Carolina) and Bob Bender (1979 Final Four with Duke; 1976 Final Four with Indiana).
In fact, Bender and Krafcisin are the only two college basketball players to play in two national championship games at two different schools.
Other members of KU’s 2022 national championship team with a shot at reaching Final Fours at two schools: current transfers Joseph Yesufu (Washington State), Zach Clemence (Santa Barbara) and Bobby Pettiford (East Carolina).