By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer
No stranger to hard work, redshirt sophomore forward Josh Cunningham is ready to make a difference on the court this season for Dayton basketball. Cunningham transferred to UD from Bradley University before the 2015-16 season and redshirted last year. This season, his teammates saw his performance and leadership quality enough to name him captain.
As a freshman, Cunningham led Bradley in rebounding, finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference in that category at the end of the 2014-15 season. He was named to the league’s All-Freshman Team. But Cunningham sought more opportunity and found a home with the Flyers.
“With the team and the teammates that we have here, they made it very, very easy for me because they took me in as soon as I stepped foot on campus for my visit,” said Cunningham in a recent interview with Flyer News. “I felt like I was a part of the team already, and they just made sure everything was fine with me.”
Another reason that this transition was so easy for Cunningham is because coming to Dayton reunited him with high school friend and teammate Kyle Davis. The duo attended Morgan Park High School in Chicago and won a state championship together in 2013. After Davis graduated, Cunningham won another state title during his senior year. Naturally, he is excited to be back playing with Davis.
“It’s always fun to get back and play basketball with someone you know and have played with in the previous years,” he said. Cunningham also commented on how there are high hopes for the duo because they were so dynamic together in high school and still possess that chemistry from a few years ago.
Due to NCAA underclass transfer restrictions, Cunningham could not take the court for the Flyers in the 2015-16 season. But by practicing with the team, he was able to build up his reputation as a leader on and off the court.
“He’s a real physical player. He’s always talking and has a next-play mentality,” said teammate and co-captain Scoochie Smith. “Just to be one of the bigs and a be a leader…that’s a big part of our program.”
Not only is he healthy and ready to go, but there is excitement surrounding Cunningham and his ability to contribute to the team this season. He was, in fact, voted by his teammates to be one of three co-captains along with senior guards Scoochie Smith and Kyle Davis.
“[Being voted a captain] means a lot to me because that means my teammates look at me in a certain way and I really appreciate that from them,” said Cunningham.
Coach Archie Miller also commented on Cunningham’s status as captain and how his teammates came to agree that he would be fit for the position. “I think Josh’s impact was felt a year ago when he wasn’t playing…You can always get a great feel for a guy when he’s not contributing in the games. I think Josh is really well respected as a great teammate,” Miller said. “His talent level gives him some credibility on the court. So I think it’s a combination of two things: one is just being a great kid and a great teammate and now that he’s able to get out there and play, I think our guys really respect him both on and off the floor.”
Based on Cunningham’s own comments as well as Miller’s, it seems clear that Cunningham is taking on his new role with seriousness and humility.
The hard part of being a captain, however, is the ability to deal with being held to a slightly higher standard than the rest of the team. People might imagine there being a little bit of extra pressure on Cunningham, but he sees it differently.
“It just makes me want to keep doing what I do and be the person that I am, just to keep trying to be a great person to my teammates on and off the court,” said Cunningham.
While Cunningham himself might not feel a lot of pressure, the Dayton basketball program as a whole likely feels a lot. The Flyers won the A10 regular season championship last season and have made an appearance in the NCAA tournament each of the last three seasons. After being knocked out in the first round last year, there is even a little bit of extra pressure to make a deeper run this year.
Again, though, Cunningham doesn’t perceive this pressure on the team in the same way as most. “[The expectations on the team] are motivation, but sometimes you just want to block it out because it can affect the team if you think about it too much,” he said. “But, like I said, it’s motivation for me and the guys just to go out there and give it our all every night.”
Whether it’s motivation, pressure, or a combination of both for the team, that is not the focus for the players and coaches. What is more important is that there are high expectations for the Flyers this year, and the team will need to execute to live up to its potential. Whether or not that happens, the Flyers are happy to have Cunningham along for the ride.