Cade Cunningham doesn’t drive yet.
The 6-foot-6 Arlington Bowie boys basketball freshman, who turned 15 in September, might not be able to take a car for a spin. But he can make heads spin on a basketball court.
At 16 points per game, Cunningham’s the second-leading scorer on one of the top teams in District 4-6A. Add in his defense and cool-and-collected on-court demeanor and it becomes abundantly clear how Cunningham became the first freshman to ever start for Bowie coach Allen Gratts.
“Right off the bat, I knew he was going to be a varsity player,” Gratts said. “I wasn’t sure he was going to be a varsity starter. But he quickly proved he deserved a starting position. He’s earned his role. He controls his emotion. He doesn’t play like a freshman.”
I thought it was just basketball until I first got the ball and it was all eyes on me. So now I kind of felt some pressure, like I have to show up. But I think after that first possession I was fine. It’s been smooth since then.
- Bowie freshman Cade Cunningham
Cunningham has already developed into one of the best shooters on the team. He poured in 24 points in a district victory against North Crowley and in a recent five-game stretch has made more than 70 percent of his shots. He’s also shooting over 35 percent from 3-point range. But he’s not just a prolific scorer.
“I try to be as all-around as possible,” Cunningham said. “I like to shoot, obviously. I like to get to the rim, and I like finding teammates. And I’m long, so that can get me some steals [on defense].”
Against Martin on Jan. 24, Cunningham and Bowie’s duo of tall guards — 6-5 junior Kyler Edwards, the team’s leading scorer, and 6-3 senior Donoven Davenport — made life tough on the Warriors on both ends of the floor.
“He’s not just a phenomenal freshman, he’s a tall freshman,” Warriors coach Clint Schnell said of Cunningham. “And they’ve got some tall guards, Kyler and Donoven. They’re a tough matchup for us.”
Although Schnell raved about Bowie’s performance, Cunningham looked back on the game, a 68-57 Martin victory, as a missed opportunity for the Vols, especially on the defensive end.
“Kyler being 6-4, 6-5 and me being 6-6, 6-7, I think it makes harder for other teams whenever we’re on defense,” Cunningham said. “Just having so much length, we can get in passing lanes. We really could have played a lot better than this. We didn’t come out and show it tonight.”
Gratts knew coming into the season that Cunningham could contribute to the Vols. The coach had seen his young forward star at point guard last season for the eighth-grade team at Bowie feeder school Barnett Junior High. And he watched Cunningham continue to excel over the summer.
But in those early days, he wasn’t sure if Cunningham would be ready to start right away as a freshman. “I’ve only had one freshman even on the team before,” Gratts said.
Cunningham continued to make his presence felt in preseason practices, easing any concerns the Bowie coaches might have had about inserting a young player into the lineup. But that’s not to say Cunningham hasn’t had any growing pains. He recalls feeling nervous the first time the ball was in his hands in a varsity game.
“I thought it was just basketball until I first got the ball and it was all eyes on me,” Cunningham said. “So now I kind of felt some pressure, like I have to show up. But I think after that first possession I was fine. It’s been smooth since then.”
Davenport, a three-year varsity starter, is in awe of the freshman’s steady development. “Seeing him from summertime and coming in and practicing, he’s improved a lot,” Davenport said. “He’s shown me unbelievable things.”
The top of the District 4-6A standings looks established. Bowie, which has played near-perfect ball throughout the conference schedule, and Lamar occupy the top two slots. North Crowley is likely to claim the third seed.
Martin has the inside track on claiming the fourth and final playoff spot, but any kind of slump combined with a rally from Arlington could threaten that standing. Still, that would have to include a pair of upset victories, as the Lady Colts face Lamar and Bowie this week before finishing the regular season on Feb. 7 at Fort Worth Paschal.
Seguin will need the final two weeks of the season to distinguish itself within a logjam in 9-5A that also includes Burleson Centennial and Cleburne. All three are chasing first-place Crowley. Still, it appears that with fifth-place Granbury having a losing district record, the Lady Cougars will make the playoffs.
Action on both the boys and girls sides in the second full week of district play will be highlighted by Martin clashing with Sam Houston at home on Feb. 3. Sam’s Tuesday foes are Fort Worth Paschal. Martin has new district rival Mansfield on Tuesday.
Lamar has Arlington on Tuesday and Mansfield on Friday. Arlington’s Friday games are at Bowie, which has North Crowley on Tuesday. Seguin’s games are at Everman on Tuesday and its teams host Burleson Centennial on Friday.
Stephen English: firstname.lastname@example.org, @sbenglish74