Already a WPIAL baseball, football champion, Cunningham shooting ‘lights-out’ for Jeannette boys
Selfless is a word often associated with Jeannette senior swingman Tre Cunningham, who admittedly used to pass up open shots and did not always look to score on the basketball court.
Last year, he was a role-playing small forward or stretch-guard and was not the first option for the Jayhawks’ offense.
But now, he is often the go-to scorer, on the perimeter or inside.
His game, like his slender, 6-foot-3, 180-pound body, has more reach this season; a longer wingspan has produced an average of 18.4 points per game.
No. 3 seed Jeannette (18-3) opens the WPIAL Class 2A playoffs Friday night after a first-round bye. Cunningham could be the difference-maker if the Jayhawks are to make a championship run.
Why wouldn’t he?
He was a key component, a “glue guy” on WPIAL title-winning baseball and football teams.
Could Jeannette be, Tre magnifique?
“Tre has been lights-out,” Jeannette coach Adrian Batts said. “He has become a more consistent shooter. Honestly, he has been the ultimate teammate. He is not a selfish kid. I would think he’s the player of the year in our section.”
The football team also won a PIAA championship with Cunningham catching touchdown passes, narrowing running lanes as an outside linebacker and kicking extra points and field goals as the team’s rangy kicker.
In baseball, he was a consistent starting pitcher, the ace of the Jayhawks’ staff, and one of the team’s better hitters.
What has been perhaps most impressive about Cunningham is his ability to blend into each season while maintaining such an impactful role.
He has two 30-plus-point games this season, including 32 points and 11 rebounds against Apollo-Ridge, and 31 points, 15 rebounds and four 3-pointers against Riverview.
“He’s our quiet assassin,” Batts said. “He is a tough matchup because if you close out on him he can blow by you. And he is able to post up on smaller guys.”
A senior captain, Cunningham has shown the ability to pull up, take defenders off the dribble, and attack the rim — he has five dunks.
His size makes him nearly unstoppable when he gets behind the defense for a layup. But Tre can make “treys,” too. He is sneaky effective from behind the arc. And as far as leadership, he appears to have found his outside game and his inside voice.
“I just come out to play every game,” Cunningham said. “I have definitely surprised myself scoring 18 a game. Playing comes easy to me, but I have tried to be more of a leader. I was being too passive. I like to get my teammates involved, but coaches wanted me to take more shots. As long as we win, I don’t care about my stats. If we’re fine, I’m fine.”
Batts said most teams have a “Big 3” unit that does most of the scoring. Jeannette’s would be Cunningham, senior guard Robert Kennedy and junior guard Anthony Johnson.
“The bulk of everything Tre has done this year has been without Anthony and without (Kennedy) for a game,” Batts said. “Our other guys are important to us too, but Tre has really stepped up his game and has been so consistent.”
Cunningham has come a long way from a potentially threatening illness that sidelined him for three games last season. He developed a nasal infection and needed surgery.
He spent a few days in the hospital itching to get back.
“My face was pretty swollen up,” he said. “My eye was swollen shut. I lost a lot of weight too, like 15 pounds. I was down to around 160 and my wind was down. It took me some time to get it back.”
Cunningham, who comes from a very athletic family — his mother, Tracey (Bone), was a track star at Jeannette and his father (Steve) and uncles (Derrick and Chris Cunningham, and Jesse and David Bone) were good football players and multi-sport athletes.
Tre’s path to college could be baseball, his “main sport.” He went to an invitation-only showcase in January in Arizona and is hoping for a big senior season.
“I want to see what happens (with recruiting) by the end of baseball season,” he said. “I haven’t ruled any sport out at this point.”
At some point, Cunningham will have a college decision to make — the school to attend and the sport in which he plans to play.
“I know baseball is his sport,” Batts said. “But if he considered basketball, he could definitely play. If I’m a D-2 coach or a small D-1 coach and I have a 13th scholarship to offer, I’d have to take a look at him. And he’s a young senior.”