Carter Cunningham is a different breed of athlete.
“He’s a Coach’s Hall of Famer,” Creswell basketball coach Jesse Thomas said. “The kind of kid every coach dreams about coaching.”
As the senior captain – and one of only two seniors on the roster – he doesn’t display the leadership skills of a typical high school kid. After being exposed to a classmate who had tested positive for Covid, Cunningham had to do a 14-day quarantine so he missed two weeks of 6 p.m. practices.
Well, sort of.
“At 5:59, Carter sent me a video of him working out with a text saying, ‘I’m on time’,” Thomas said. And he continued to train on his own each day, precisely during his team’s practice time.
So he’s never really missed a practice.
The night the Bulldogs won the 3rd-5th-Place game at the 3A state tournament in Coos Bay, Cunningham asked for the keys to the gym so he could start gearing up for his senior season.
“A bunch of us stayed an extra night,” Thomas said, “but Carter came home on Saturday night, and he went straight to the gym and started putting shots up.”
Then there’s this little dietary health challenge Cunningham has been preparing to do for the second straight season. No sugar. Which means no Gatorade, no natural juices – basically only milk and water for the whole season.
“It wasn’t like I was going around reading labels or anything like that, but I wanted to challenge myself and see how long I could go without any added sugar,” Cunningham said. “It was unfortunate that it was the longest season I’ve ever been a part of. We were playing from November until the middle of March – it was the furthest we had made it in a while.
“I found a couple of drinks of ‘protein’ water – it was disgusting. Disgusting!!! But hey, once I was one week in, I wasn’t going to give up. Then at the end of the season I made myself sick.
“Now we’re doing this again, it’s a lot shorter season. It should be easier. It’s my new tradition. It’s my last basketball season. Might as well.”
Even though the Bulldogs are inexperienced – four sophomores and three freshmen could see significant minutes – Cunningham says he thinks the future looks bright for Creswell basketball, and maybe the present, too.
“Considering our team consists of only one person who played varsity minutes and only three people who have ever put on a varsity jersey … I feel really good about where we are.
“Our young talent is really, really good. If these freshmen and sophomores can stick together, by the time they’re juniors and seniors they will 100% be winning lots of games and going to state every year.”
Three of those sophomores are key starters: Connor Hanson, Ajay Hodge and Max Velarde, while Jack Nguyen is a versatile guard off the bench. Freshmen Koen Thurman, Carson Williamson and Asher Parsons have shown that they can not only play, but they belong on the varsity level.
Caleb Lee – the lone junior – is flat-out the best player on the team. Especially on the defensive end of the court, Thomas said.
“Keeping guys out of foul trouble will be key for us,” Thomas said. “Physically, Caleb has all the tools, but sometimes he gets too aggressive. It will be a learning year for him.”
Jackson Parker is the only other senior. He’ll be used interchangeably as a starter with Velarde.
Just another hurdle the Bulldogs will have to clear as they play a shortened 12-game season that goes from May 16 to June 16.
One can’t blame Cunningham for looking toward the next stages of his life. He’s been accepted to the University of Oregon, where he will major in accounting. He has already received some scholarships and happily said he will be able to graduate debt-free.
“I’m pretty done with high school, I have a lot of senioritis,” the third-year varsity point guard said. “This is a good challenge, sticking with these guys, finishing strong. My mom keeps saying, ‘You can do anything for one month, so finish strong.’”
Cunningham also has an agreement with UO athletic’s creative department.
“Maybe catch me on the sideline this fall with a camera in my hand,” Cunningham said.
First, he has some pressing business that he’s looking forward to.
“Obviously, I need to make an impact on the court, but for me, what’s more important is to make an impact off the court and to lay the foundation of what Creswell basketball needs to be and teach them how to be leaders – and I think Jesse will back this up – a lot of these young guys aren’t really leaders and don’t really see basketball as a team sport, but kind of more of an individual thing.
“So I want to show them how they can be leaders so next generations coming through can continue building up this program really well.”