One of the biggest surprises on the SMU basketball team last season was sophomore center Cannen Cunningham.
After collecting just 18 blocks his freshman year, Cunningham blocked a team-high 59 shots last season and shot over 50 percent from the field. Cunningham also averaged 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds while playing over 33 minutes per game. He credits his breakout season to the SMU coaches for allowing him the opportunity to play more.
"My minutes went up a lot last season, so that helped," he said. "I was a shot blocker in high school, so it's always been a big part of my game. Last year, I knew I wasn't coming out of the game, so I really just had a lot of confidence."
At 6-foot-10, 225-pounds, Cunningham was asked to be the man in the middle for the Mustangs last season. With the added pressure, he says he relied on associate head coach Tim Jankovich for support.
"I think Coach Jankovich has definitely helped me the most," he said. "He does a good job of relaying the plays to me and helping me understand why you're supposed to do certain things instead of just telling me to do it. I really like that. He's easy to relate to."
Jankovich is a part of an SMU coaching staff that has received a lot of praise nationally for how they are recruiting and developing players. Cunningham says it's an honor to learn from a Hall of Fame coach, but it's not easy.
"It's demanding," he said. "Coach Brown probably loves basketball more than anybody I have ever seen in my life, so he expects a lot out of us, but it's right for him to do that."
Cunningham expects a lot out of himself as well. Although he had a terrific sophomore season, he worked hard all summer on improving the parts of his game that needed improvement.
"I definitely want to become a better and more consistent shooter," he said. "My post game has to improve and definitely my rebounding, too. I didn't rebound very well last year."
Cunningham is happy about the additions to the Mustangs roster because he says the team needed to get deeper. Towards the end of last season, the starters wouldn't even be able to practice because of fatigue.
There are multiple new faces on the team who could break out next season, but Cunningham says he has a favorite candidate.
"I would say Ben Moore," Cunningham said. "He is really good and works hard every day. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. I think a lot of people might contribute that to luck, but there's some skill that goes into it and he's really good at it."
Cunningham is also excited to play with Villanova transfer Markus Kennedy. Kennedy dropped weight in the offseason and could be a major contributor for the Mustangs this year.
"Markus is incredibly versatile," Cunningham said. "He has lost a lot of weight since he has been here, but he still uses his body so well. He's hard to get around in the post, he rebounds well, and he's got a nice shot. Definitely somebody I want to play next to because he is also a good passer."
Cunningham feels fortunate to be a part of the SMU program while it is on the rise. The team has great resources and NBA connections, but Cunningham says the practice with former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson was one the highlights of the offseason.
"Oh my gosh. For one, I didn't know he was that tall," Cunningham said. "That guy was huge. It was incredible. That's the kind of pull that Larry Brown has. He can bring anybody he wants into practice and its nothing to him. It's just one of his guys, so that was really special."
Cunningham has talked with other teammates about the difference between this season and last year. He says everybody in the program is much more confident and prepared because of the great potential of the team.
"I think we have a lot more talent this year," he said. "I think we believe we can win games this year. Last year, we weren't as deep. We were kind of at a disadvantage. This year, I feel like we are at an advantage. We have players. If you're not doing your job, the next man will so it's a lot more competitive in practice."
Getting To Know Cannen Cunningham
Hoops Feature: Cannen Cunningham
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