Feb. 17, 2009
By Phil Landry
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Senior tri-captain Colin Cunningham has tasted the success that Holy Cross basketball has experienced in past years. As one of the team leaders both on and off the court, Cunningham has been looked to in order to provide guidance for the Crusader program this season.
Cunningham began playing basketball because the sport found him. "I got into it simply because I was the tallest kid in my group of friends," said the 6'6" forward. "It was a sort of natural selection." His basketball influences from his childhood have shaped the type of player he is. As a big man with the ability to dribble, shoot and pass, Cunningham looked up to some of basketball's greatest players. "Like every basketball player, I loved watching Michael Jordan dominate in the '90s," said Cunningham. "My Dad was a huge Boston Celtics fan, so I always had an appreciation for Larry Bird and Bob Cousy, too."
However, it was Cunningham's intensity on the defensive side of the ball that made him stand out to head coach Ralph Willard. The Memphis, Tenn., native's Dad was one of his influences in showing him a prime example of excellent defense. "Bill Russell was an underlying influence that I never really realized. My Dad was always telling me to watch him and the way he plays," said Cunningham. "The way he blocked shots but controlled the ball is something that I really admire."
Cunningham has contributed to the team since his freshman year, when he played in 29 games. Looking back on his years at Holy Cross, he reflects on how he developed into one of the leaders of the team. "Being a vocal leader is a different kind of role that at first is not natural for anyone. As a freshman you come in and try to figure out what is going on with the system. As a sophomore you are trying to contribute to the team on the court. And as a junior you come into the role of setting a standard, and support what the captains are saying," continued Cunningham. "But as a senior and captain you have to put the whole thing together. You have to contribute to the team and back up what you say. The best thing you can do is hold guys to a standard and set a good example through your actions."
Because of the example set forth by the seniors on and off the court, the Crusaders have seen a positive contribution from its freshman class. "I think the freshmen have brought a breath of fresh air to the team. They play with a certain swagger that will definitely help the team in the long run," said Cunningham, who also stressed the importance of the team's bond. "Chemistry-wise, they have fit right into the system, and off the court everyone is getting along really well. They have been huge for us this year - they have really carried us in some of the games."
As hard as the team works on and off the court, Cunningham respects Holy Cross' and coach Willard's philosophy on basketball. "As I have matured, I have realized that we only emphasize the small things that are at the core of the game of basketball. We do not worry about the streamers and the huge speaker systems. We focus on working harder than any other team in the country, because it has created success in the past and the same will hold true in the future," continued Cunningham. "That is the thing I have learned through Holy Cross, life is not really about the glamour on the outside. One of the things this program teaches you is doing the little things in life and taking joy in the small nuances of life and the relationships you create. Working hard and focusing on the things that matter will translate into anyone's life."
Because he has been a part of a championship team, Cunningham knows the kind of commitment it takes to have success at a high level. "For our team to have success, we need wins that we have to grind out defensively by doing the little things right. If we do those things night in and night out, we will win games have a good shot at the Patriot League championship," said Cunningham. "It always goes back to the mentality that where you are is never good enough. You can not be complacent, and this team is not satisfied. We have to persevere and stay to true to what has made us successful in the past."