By JEREMY WOO
Special to ZAGSBLOG
If you don’t know Josh Cunningham by now, it won’t be long.
The 6-foot-7 forward’s stock has spiked in midst of a breakout spring campaign with the Mac Irvin Fire. The Chicago native and Illinois state champion at Morgan Park High School has developed a versatile, high major-caliber skill set.
Scary thing is, he’s just starting to scratch the surface.
Once just an athlete with potential, Cunningham’s perimeter game in particular has expanded, and was on full display last weekend at the Spiece Bill Hensley Memorial Run N’ Slam in Fort Wayne, Ind. Always an outstanding athlete, he’s moved beyond just dunks and now projects as a small forward.
Need evidence? Cunningham shot 13-of-13 from the field in a gritty 85-75 Fire win over Team NLP. He finished with 32 points in the tournament’s most eye-opening performance, draining five threes.
“It felt pretty good,” said the understated Cunningham. “I didn’t realize I hadn’t missed. It was a real intense game because the other team was talking stuff. I felt we had to play hard—I wanted to play extra hard.”
What’s more, the Fire pulled out the win without arguably the top two big men in the 2014 class: Jahlil Okafor and Cliff Alexander, who rested over the weekend. All of Cunningham’s hard work began to pay off in a visible way.
“They score a lot of our points, so I had to step up and score more in order for us to win,” said Cunningham. “I’ve been working on shooting the ball, dribbling and getting to the hole strong.”
Make no mistake—colleges took note of his talent long ago. The rising senior boasts offers from Bradley, DePaul, Iowa, Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and UMass.
But lately, Cunningham has started to hear from schools like Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern and UConn. If he was ever a secret, he won’t be for much longer. And though he’s still flying under the radar on recruiting sites, Cunningham says he doesn’t worry about rankings.
It’s still early in the game, and it makes sense expect more schools to get involved with the high-upside wing. Cunningham likely won’t decide until after his senior year at Morgan Park, allowing plenty of time for him to show off his talent.
“I pretty much hear from every school the same amount,” he said. “There’s no favorite. I want a coaching staff I’ve built a great relationship with. I also prefer a team that likes to get up and down the court, and press every now and then.”
The Mac Irvin Fire road show, starring Okafor, Alexander, Cunningham and elite 2015 point Jalen Brunson heads to Dallas this weekend for the third Nike EYBL session, and there will be no shortage of exposure. They have eyes set on the Peach Jam title next month, and are certainly in contention.
And as Cunningham’s star continues to rise, don’t say nobody warned you.