Senior Sean Cunningham may not be in the starting lineup for Warriors' boys' hoops this season, but based on his approach to the situation, you would not even notice the change.
Playing basketball since he was three, the sport carried Sean all the way into the starting five for Valley last season before becoming a bench player this campaign. The 6-footer's coach knows not only the transition Sean had to endure, but also the amount of respect he has for the program to take the reserve role.
"As a junior, Sean started every game so it was an adjustment not starting this season, but he has made the most of his role and contributes in every game," says Warriors' Head Coach Kevin Woods. "Sean is also a great teammate and is respected by everyone in the program. He loves basketball, which you can see by the way he plays the game."
The guard exhibits maturity on the hardwood, showing willingness for versatility while adding a spark to the Warriors when necessary.
"It's frustrating, of course, to not be out there starting, but I just do whatever I have to do for this team," says Sean. "I am enjoying the ride as a sixth man. I just like to give the team energy if it's low after the start of a game, even if it is feeding passes to guys. I try to make everyone else on the court better when I am out there. I am not concerned with points and I always like to be a pass-first player. I am happy with whatever role for this team."
Both his and the game's competitive nature carried Sean through early-season injuries.
"After fracturing my thumb a few weeks before the season began, I also rolled my ankle," says Sean, who missed the first four games of this season. "I went through physical therapy for my ankle and I tried to come back to the team as strong as possible to help get my flow back. I wore a brace the first few games back to be safe, but I was not worried after a while and took it off. I love competition and it's none better than what it is in basketball. There is so much emotion involved in it and I think that is why this team works well: because of our multiple styles."
In a spot where others may sulk, Sean has done nothing but improve his defensive and shooting skills from the bench, keeping focus on a state crown.
"I spent time working on my defensive stances in the offseason, not gambling by reaching in and being more conservative," says Sean, whose squad won its first Shoreline Conference title since 1984 on March 1 over Old Lyme. "I also got smarter with my shooting, working at the local YMCA on it to improve my three-point shot, along with my mid-range jumper. Shorelines were great, but no one cares once states begin and we just want that Class M state title."
Coach Woods also knows what he has in his sixth man's Sean's skill set.
"Sean is a very talented basketball player; he has tremendous court vision, which makes him an excellent passer," says Woods. "Sean is intense on the basketball court and gets after it on every possession. His defense has vastly improved this season, which has made him a more effective all-around player, and he has also improved his shooting. Sean has excelled this year at his role of being the first man off the bench and has given us great minutes."
Whether an all-star or a backup, Sean feels that no matter life's storms, one must weather them with positivity and persistence.
"You have to always stay positive in life," says Sean, who thanks former AAU and middle school coach Matt Needleman for his success. "You have to always stay upbeat and know you are never out of the game."