If there’s one thing we know about Texas Longhorns head basketball coach Shaka Smart, it’s that he greatly values great effort from his players. Though incoming freshman small forward Brock Cunningham may not make a big impact in the box score this year, Smart and the team expect him to make an impact beyond a stat line by bringing intensity to every practice and every play.
“I love Brock because [he] competes on every play.” Smart says, “I can’t wait to see how his blue-collar mentality is going to positively affect our team.”
An incoming freshman from Westlake High School, Cunningham has long been tied to the Longhorn program. The 6’7, 205-pound small forward was the first addition to what ultimately finished as yet another top 10 recruiting class. But his ties to Texas were developed well before he committed to the play basketball on the Forty Acres.
“I went to a bunch of games when I was little,” Brock said of the Longhorns to ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. “I remember they were playing some Big 12 team; I said I want to play in that burnt orange one day. It has been a little bit of a dream of mine.”
Though he was making his name in the Longhorns backyard, other big-name programs were in pursuit of Cunningham. After a coming-out stint in the Adidas Gauntlet circuit in 2017, where he averaged 22.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, Cunningham shot up the recruiting boards and ultimately landed in ESPN’s top 100 rankings at No. 90. With that recognition, more offers came Cunningham’s way.
By the time Cunningham signed his National Letter of Intent, he held offers from Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Missouri, Oklahoma State, with Stanford and Pennsylvania also in pursuit.
Ultimately, though, it was trust and comfort with Smart that won Cunningham over.
“It felt like a good fit,” Cunningham said. “From what I hear, Coach [Shaka] Smart is a player’s coach. He spends a lot of time with them. He won’t be distant.”
Cunningham shouldn’t be expected to get much court action this season, as the Longhorns enter the year with plenty of experienced wings in the fold. However, the hope is that Cunningham can use his first season on the Forty Acres to build upon his impressive offensive game, and improve his defensive capabilities.
Last year, Cunningham showed off his impressive all-around game at the Cypress Invitational:
Brock Cunningham had the crowd buzzing all tournament. You can count on him to play hard the full 32 minutes of a game. He was easily one of the best players at the Cypress Hoops Invitational. The number three player in the state scored 20 plus points in each game he played. He played hard each minute he was on the court; grabbing most of Westlake’s team rebounds each game, diving for loose balls, and playing great defense on and off the ball. Offensively, the Texas commit is hard to stop in one-on-one isolation situations. He has deep range and is comfortable hitting tough off-balance jumpers from the mid-range. Throughout the tournament, he displayed his great touch in the paint. He finished with either hand, used his go-to turnaround jump shot, and displayed a newly developed running hook shot. He is always aggressive and lives at the free throw line. Brock averaged 25 points per game throughout the tournament.
The Austin native brings a soft shooting touch packaged with a competitive nature that leads to him being an active rebounder and someone who should get to the free-throw line with ease. When he got to the line at the Texas Tip-Off on Wednesday, he hit both of his attempts.
Cunningham has a great three-point stroke, but he’ll need some time to adjust to the speed and length of opposing teams to get his shot off and maintain a high three-point percentage.
Cunningham’s play-hard demeanor is eye catching, but it will take some time for him to adjust to the speed of college basketball. Once the game slows down and Cunningham finds comfort within his role, the potential to become a three-to-four-year contributor is there, and should come with proper coaching and time learning Smart’s system.