By Andres Waters
After a long day of practice during Loyola’s summer workouts, junior Kevin Cunningham and senior captain Ramar Evans decided to get some food. Evans had spent all summer trying to figure out what type of music his quiet and reserved teammate liked, and today he was going to find out.
“Alright, Kev you’re on the AUX,” Evans told Cunningham. “Let me see what you got.”
“OK,” Cunningham replied. “I don’t know if you’re going to like my music, but I really like Lil Dicky.”
His appreciation for Lil Dicky may be the only thing teammates know about their guard off the court. But, in regards to him as a player, they know everything they need to know. Cunningham has impressed coaches and teammates in his first year playing varsity. They’ve seen his commitment to the team and ability to do whatever it takes to help including his willingness to step into a new role once again next season.
The junior is averaging 11.2 points per game, including a season-high 21 points in a Ramblers win in the Gulfshore Holiday Hoop Fest Championship during the Christmas break.
“He’s a hard guy to figure out, [because] he keeps to himself,” Evans said. “But, you can tell he’s focused.”
Cunningham said that his work ethic stemmed from his childhood, where he found his hatred for losing while playing in a local recreational league.
“I just really liked winning,” Cunningham said. “We won a lot of tournaments and I just thought that was awesome.”
Head Coach Tom Livatino said that the junior is a “relentless worker”.
“He’s demanding of himself and he strives to meet his expectations,” Livatino said. “He’s always striving to be the best.”
Livatino said that his emerging star’s confidence is equally important to his work ethic because of the difficult role he plays in the team’s system.
“He’s been a good player his whole life so he doesn’t get raddled,” Livatino said.
Cunningham said that he is able to remain confident and focused on his game because he understands his role and believes it fits his skill set.
“My job is to come in [the game] and make shots,” Cunningham said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do every game. It doesn’t change from game to game.”
Assistant coach Michael Sneed said Cunningham has excelled as the team’s primary perimeter shooter in his first year playing at the varsity level.
“Kevin’s really embraced probably the hardest role in this program,” Sneed said. “The hardest thing to do is be a point guard for coach Livatino, but, the second hardest thing is to be the three; the shooter.”
Sneed said Cunningham has shown the ability to respond even when he’s not having a great game. He believes that he enjoys the pressure that comes with role.
“He has nothing but confidence in his game, he said. “He’s young in [terms of] age but not in his confidence in his game.”
Cunningham’s confidence will be key going forward as he will be expected to fill an even bigger role next year. He will be the team’s only returning starter in the 2018 season.
Rather than being able to center most of his focus toward being a shooter, Cunningham must expand his game and could possibly even be moved to point guard to improve his development, according to Livatino.
Livatino said that the upcoming off-season will be all about increasing Cunningham’s range as a shooter and improving his ball handling, passing, and driving and scoring in the post.
“I think he’s already developing as a shooter,” he said. “And, he can guard the ball well.”
In addition to becoming a better player, Cunningham will also be expected to step into more of a leadership role next season.
“He’s going to have to talk more,” Livatino said. “We need to have a player-led team.”
While he admitted his focus is on the season at hand, Cunningham understands that he will have to take charge of the team next year. Junior guard Peter Mangan said he believes his teammate will succeed in his new role.
“Kev he’s going to have to carry a lot,” he said. “But, he’s able to carry a lot. He works harder than anyone.”
Livatino also expressed his faith in the returning starter. He said he believes Cunningham has potential to be one of the program’s highest rated collegiate recruits if he is able to reach his potential.
“We’re going to have a lot of juniors coming back and we’ve got a good sophomore class right now,” he said. “I’ll just have to be a leader on that team and step up.”