Weathering the Storm: Boynton is the Man for Oklahoma State

Cowboy fans should be optimistic about the direction head coach Mike Boynton’s taking the program in, especially with the unforeseen ups and downs the program has gone through since he took over as head coach.

The 38-year-old Boynton, now entering his fourth season as head coach, took over the program in the Spring of 2017, after previously serving as an assistant under former head coach Brad Underwood, who made a surprising decision to leave for Illinois. Boynton was the shock hire in 2017, and within months was in charge of running a program that had a rouge assistant arrested in an FBI scandal that shocked the world of college hoops.

The scandal clouded over the basketball program during a season in which the Cowboys were picked to finish last in the Big 12. On a team already thin on depth, Boynton dismissed two players for failing to meet team standards. Two days later, the Cowboys beat No. 19 Florida State, the first of what became six top 25 victories, four of which came against top 10 opponents.

Boynton’s Cowboys also became the first team to sweep Kansas in the regular season under coach Bill Self and the first team since 2001 to sweep the Jayhawks. However, the Cowboys were held out of the NCAA Tournament as one of the biggest tournament snubs in recent years. Regardless, the Cowboys ended the season tied for sixth in the Big 12, despite overcoming adversity time and again, in a season in which they
posted four victories over Elite Eight squads. Boynton’s first season at the helm set the bar high, tying a school record for 15 home wins with 21 in total.

However, the following season would prove to be another season full of overwhelming issues. Boynton dismissed three more players from the program, forcing the Cowboys to host open tryouts and add six walk-ons because the team didn’t have enough players on the roster to run 5-on-5 scrimmages in practice.

Oklahoma State’s dreadful season came to an end with the Cowboys finishing 12-20, which put them at 9th in the Big 12. And 2019-20 was a tale of two seasons for Boynton and the Cowboys. The Cowboys jumped out to a 7-0 start that included blowout wins against Syracuse and Ole Miss at the NIT Season Tipoff Classic in Brooklyn. However, mononucleosis sidelined OSUs best player, Issac Likekele, for an entire month in the middle of the season. The Cowboys struggled before turning a corner, alongside Likekele, and winning five of their last six games. The Cowboys final two games included a road win against Texas and a first- round win in the Big 12 Tournament in which Likekele scored the game-winning layup in the final
seconds to beat Iowa State. The following day, the Big 12 Tournament was canceled before the cancellation of the rest of the 2019-20 postseason shortly after due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most recent blow to Boynton and the OSU program came back in June when the NCAA Committee on Infractions handed down its first FBI-case-related punishment involving former Cowboy assistant coach Lamont Evans. The punishment, a 2021 postseason ban, came as a shock to the program and the rest of the college basketball world, who wasn’t anticipating something so devastating. The other penalties resulting from the Level I violation included potentially facing three years of probation, the loss of three scholarships between now and the 2022-23 season, and a $10,000 fine.

Following the NCAA announcement, all eyes were on the nation’s top recruit, Cade Cunningham, who had committed to the Cowboys in November of 2019. Cunningham had Boynton’s full support of transferring to another school for a shot at the postseason or playing in the G-League or overseas before preparing for the 2021 NBA draft. But after one day, Cunningham knew who he wanted to play for, Boynton, who established a relationship with Cunningham during his freshman year of high school,
offering the then 14-year-old a scholarship despite not even playing a single game at the high school
level.

“Coach Boynton and I already had a great relationship, and at the end of the day, that’s who I wanted to play for,” Cunningham said. “And I know there is still so much I can accomplish. All my goals are still intact here at Oklahoma State. We know we can still accomplish so much as a team here that will impact the program for the future, which I feel like that would mean a whole lot to us.”

Cunningham’s loyalty to the Cowboys says a lot about Boynton, who should be commended for how he handled the entirety of Oklahoma State’s situation, basically since he got the job. In the end, Boynton’s relationship with Cunningham held value and trust that wound up being what kept Cunningham in Stillwater. And Boynton continues to build these types of relationships with players across the country, proving why he’s one of the best recruiters in the nation. For the second-straight year, one of the nation’s best recruiting classes will suit up at Oklahoma State. This season, Boynton brings in a freshman class lead by Cunningham, which ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 and the highest ever at Oklahoma State (4th according to Rivals).

“There was a plan set out in 2017 when I took over, which was to follow the right steps and then do the hard work every day that puts you in a position to have sustained success,” Boynton said. “Our fans deserve it. This program and its tradition deserve nothing but the best.”

“We’re going to continue to strive to put even better classes together as we move forward,” he continued. “It’s certainly a combination of what we’ve done for three years in trying to recruit high-character kids
who care about wanting it at a high level and want to represent this university and program.”

Addam M. Francisco

Founder & Editor-in-Chief. National Association of Black Journalists. University of Central Oklahoma.

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