- Tom Archdeacon columnist
Besides listening to “my music,” he said he has just one pregame ritual.
“I always have to take a nice shower just to relax myself,” Josh Cunningham said. “It’s just to get me into the swing of things. To soothe myself and calm me down and get me in the mood.”
Saturday night at UD Arena there was one more benefit for the Dayton Flyers 6-foot-7 junior forward.
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During that shower, he must have really cleaned out his ears because, late in the game with Akron, he suddenly had super hearing to go along with the rest of his super powers on this night.
“With the way he was playing I didn’t want to get too excited and start yelling to him and have his head get really, really huge,” his mom, LaTanya, who had been sitting in Section 110 with some of the other players’ parents, said with a big grin. “But then when he got that fourth foul, I did have yell at him.
“I said, ‘Alright Josh, that’s it! No more fouls!’”
“And he heard me.”
In a crowd of 12,872, he heard could hear you?
“Yep, he always knows where I am,” LaTanya said. “Before every game he always finds me and stares at me until I turn around and see him and wave.
“And this time, with the students on break for Thanksgiving, it wasn’t as loud in the stadium and he heard my voice. He turned around and smiled and just shrugged his shoulders, like he was saying, ‘OK, Mom!’”
And mom knew best.
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LaTanya, like UD coach Anthony Grant and everybody else pulling for the Flyers, didn’t want to see Cunningham relegated to the sidelines. Not the way he was playing. Not on a night when there was a short bench because two regulars – Xeyrius Williams and Trey Landers – were sidelined with injuries
And when Cunningham had picked up that fourth foul with 3:18 left, he had just scored UD’s last 11 points in a row and paved the way to what would end up a 73-60 victory for the Flyers.
Cunningham finished with with 20 points and 16 rebounds and his coach’s praise.
“The entire game he was a man’s man,” Grant said. “If you look at his numbers, they only tell part of the story. We also challenged him to guard their leading scorer (Daniel Utomi).
“The guy came in averaging 26 points a game. He had one game where he made eight threes.
“He was able to get free in the first half tonight (11 points), but the second half Josh did a great job limiting his opportunities and made him work for everything he got.”
Utomi finished with 19 points, but only was able to take two shots from the floor in the final 20 minutes and he made just one.
“I can’t say enough about Josh’s leadership and toughness and what it means to our team,” Grant said.
Cunningham isn’t just the Flyers’ captain, he’s the backbone of the young team. He played a game-high 37 minutes and was the one constant the Flyers could count on all game long.
Afterward, his mom brought up an interesting point. She recalled me calling her almost exactly a year ago after another Flyers game.
“I had Josh in the back of the car and I was taking him back home (to Chicago) after his surgery,” she said in reference to the operation he had just undergone to fix the ankle ligament he’d torn in another game three days before that.
He had missed the prior season (2015-16) because he had come to Dayton after a superb freshman season at Bradley University and had to abide by NCAA transfer rules. During that time, he underwent two surgeries, one to fix a torn meniscus and the other to repair a torn labrum.
Then last year’s injury, surgery and rehab would sideline him most of the season again.
He ended up missing 21 games and playing in the last nine although he was not in shape, not at full strength and not as confident in what he could do.
That’s all changed.
“This is the best I ever felt playing basketball,” he said after Saturday’s game. “After being hurt so much, I know how to take care of my body now. I do the right things to prepare myself before the game and after.”
And that reminded LaTanya of another of her son’s routines.
“He gets in the cold tank every day,” she said. “When the team was in South Carolina last week, I heard on the radio that he missed a practice because he was in the cold tank. That was before the Ohio University game where he scored 19 points and had 18 rebounds. So I think he needs to keep doing the cold tank.”
And she knows he’ll continue with the showers, as well.
“Josh takes a shower when he wakes up in the morning,” she said. “And if we go shopping or run errands and then he’s going to go to the gym, he’ll take another shower before he goes. After he works out he’ll have another shower. If he does push-ups or sits ups he’ll shower, too.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always preached cleanliness, but this is about something more. “
Like Cunningham said: “It’s just to get me into the swing of things.”
And man, did he swing Saturday night.
“I came to UD for nights like this,” he said.
He said he didn’t realize he had scored 11 points in row down the stretch: “To be honest I was just trying to stay in the flow of the game and have fun.”
And the folks who had come in to see him – his mom, his god-brother Jordan and another friend Jimmy – both of the guys football players at Cornell College in Iowa – had fun, too.
After he finished his media session, Cunningham—still in his uniform — made his way back into the arena to find them and see how they were doing.
“I tell my mom she doesn’t have to drive down from Chicago for every game, but she doesn’t listen,” he grinned.
After some warm, smiling exchanges, they made their after-the-game plans and he then excused himself to return to the dressing room.
He first wanted to take a shower.