Cunningham earns All-Centex honor
Six-foot-6 junior forward leads Westlake in scoring, rebounding and floor burns.
When Westlake forward Brock Cunningham first stepped on the basketball court as a high school freshman at nearby St. Stephen’s, he took note of a talented group of Spartans that included such future collegiate standouts as Jarrett Allen, who recently concluded his freshman season at Texas, and DeAnthony Owens, who helped North Lake College to a junior college championship this season.
Cunningham also quickly realized what would get him play- ing time.
“All I was, was a scrappy rebounder and a guy who would get the loose balls,” said Cunningham, a 6-foot-6 junior and the American-Statesman’s newly chosen All-Central Texas boys basketball player of the year. “I think I may have averaged, like, six points a game. My role has always been rebounding and defensive first. Then comes the offense.”
Since enrolling at Westlake before his sophomore season, Cunningham has added plenty of scoring pop while maintaining his gymrat mentality. Cunningham still paced his squad — and likely all Central Texas players, for that matter — in rebounding and floor burns. But he also displayed a deft shooting touch that stretches past the 3-point line along with a quick first step to the rim while leading Westlake in scoring.
Cunningham averaged a double-double — 14.7 points, 11.3 rebounds — for Westlake, the District 25-6A champion, but his value went far beyond those numbers for a team that finished 29-7 and lost a heartbreaker to eventual state-finalist San Antonio Wagner in the Class 6A, Region IV title game. After all, who keeps stats for setting hard picks, making the correct defensive switches and coming up with seemingly every loose ball?
“Brock’s best attribute is that he’s a winner,” said Westlake coach Robert Lucero, who has led the Chaps to back-to-back regional finals. “He’s very versatile. He’s an elite rebounder; not a lot of people can chase down rebounds like he does. And he’s one of the toughest kids you’ll ever find.”
That toughness trickles down through the entire team, especially during the Chaps’ notoriously intense practices. Sophomore Will Baker, a 6-9 post who emerged as a viable scoring threat late in the season, said Cunningham’s work rate during practices forces teammates to either keep pace or suffer the consequences.
“I played against him every day in practice all season, and you can’t not play your hardest against Brock,” Baker said. “He’ll take advantage of that. Brock’s just so physical and super strong. That’s what separates him from most players: He has that physical advantage on everyone. I improved the most in practice, having to go against him.”
Of course, grit and effort alone don’t draw the type of attention that Cunningham has received from college coaches. Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger paid a visit to Westlake during the first possible practice last fall, and Oklahoma State also has emerged as a tenacious suitor. Plenty of other colleges have made offers, too, including Ivy League schools that value Cunningham’s blend of intellect and athletic prowess.
“For his size, he probably doesn’t get enough credit for his skill level,” Lucero said. “He can shoot the ball, and he makes plays for other players. When one of your biggest players can make plays for others, that just helps the whole team.”
And helping his team remains the top priority for Cunningham, who admitted the sting from losing to Wagner has lingered well into the offseason. The Chaps held a ninepoint lead in the fourth quarter of the regional final before Wagner rallied for a 55-53 victory.
“It was frustrating not to get through that (regional final) barrier,” he said. “We gave that game away, and a lot of people know it. We should have been in the state championship game. Wagner was very beatable for us.
“I don’t want to be that team that gets to the three regional finals in a row and folds. I’m going to use that loss as motivation to be the best player I can be and help the team get to state.”
Reaching the state tournament remains the goal for a program that will welcome back four starters next winter, including all-district players in wing Keonte Kennedy, point guard Luke Pluymen and 6-7 forward Mathew Mayer, whose long list of NCAA Division I scholarship offers includes one from Texas.
“Our goal is to play championship-level basketball every day and compete regardless of the score,” Lucero said. “That goal doesn’t change, but we want to keep our focus on each day and every practice. If your eyes aren’t focused on that, and you’re looking ahead at championships, you won’t see all the steps that you have to take to get there.”
Westlake forward Brock Cunningham averaged a double-double — 14.7 points, 11.3 rebounds — for the District 25-6A champ, but his value went far beyond those numbers.