With their top player sidelined by an ankle injury, the Arlington Bowie boys basketball team had to find a way to adjust in a recent home game against Mansfield Summit.
6-foot-7 sophomore forward Cade Cunningham, who has already been offered by a number of college basketball powers including Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, should be back soon. Maybe even in time for the Vols’ district opener against Arlington Martin on Dec. 19.
However long he’s out, Bowie’s intent on earning one of the four playoff spots in District 4-6A and being at full speed once the playoffs arrive.
“It would be nice if we get him back going into our first district game against Martin, but if he’s not ready to go, we’re not going to try rushing him back,” Bowie coach Allen Gratts said.
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They just believed in me and let me get the ball as a freshman. That’s big. Letting me score points as a freshman, and I’m feeding on that this year and taking on a bigger responsibility.
Bowie sophomore Cade Cunningham
“That is a big game for us. But we’ve got to get better without him. And right now we’re like starting the season over. It’s a learning process.”
That learning process included a 42-41 setback in overtime to Summit in a Dec. 12 non-district game. The good news was that junior forward Malcom Mays stepped up his game in the absence of his front-court mate.
Mays, who also quarterbacked for the Bowie football team earlier this season, poured in 14 points, including two 3-pointers and a handful of layups on plays in which the Vols beat Summit’s full-court press.
“He looked confident,” Cunningham said. “He played well.”
The bad news for Bowie was that Summit opted for half-court defense down the stretch and that stingy effort fueled an 11-4 Jaguars run that sent the game to overtime.
“There’s a lot we’ve got to do, because we’ve got to make up for what [Cunningham] does,” Mays said. “And that was just my focus, doing a little bit more than what I do normally and of course it’s harder when he’s not on the court.”
Cunningham, who seldom leaves the floor when healthy and averages more than 20 points a game, was injured on a dunk attempt in the first game of an early December tournament in Houston. Cunningham is confident he’ll be back in action sooner rather than later.
“I’m definitely feeling better now for sure,” Cunningham said.
And as well as he played as a freshman starter for the Vols, Cunningham’s elevated his game as a sophomore. Cunningham has improved as a ball-handler and become more explosive. And he’s raining home jump shots with ease.
“Last year I couldn’t jump very high,” he said. “I’m definitely more athletic. I have a better handle on the ball. And I’m a lot more confident in my jump shot than I was last year, for sure.”
And his excellence hasn’t gone unnoticed. The city of Arlington recognized Cunningham as its student-athlete of the month for November. He excels in the classroom, and on the court, he’s already approaching 1,000 points scored in his career.
“They just believed in me and let me get the ball as a freshman,” Cunningham said. “That’s big. Letting me score points as a freshman, and I’m feeding on that this year and taking on a bigger responsibility.”
Mays enjoys getting open looks that come from his defender helping to try to lock down Cunningham.
“They’re all focused on him every game he’s there,” Mays said. “So, I can get open buckets because my man is always helping on him because he’s the main option.”
And when Cunningham isn’t an option due to injuries, Mays and company aim to show that they’re still one of the district’s top teams.
“We’ll still have a lot of district games, and I think we still should be good enough,” Gratts said. “I think we’re going to be better.”