Cunningham emerges as go-to scorer for Wilton
Coming into the season, Scott Cunningham was one of several returning players for the Wilton High boys basketball team being called upon to “step up” this winter.
Going from role players to starters is one thing. It’s another to expect five new starters to equal one of the best seasons in Wilton basketball history.
So far, the Warriors (6-3 after Thursday's loss at Fairfield Warde) have met the challenge, and the same can be said of Cunningham, a 6’1” senior guard who has emerged as one of the top scorers in the FCIAC.
After averaging about 11 points his first three games, Cunningham exploded for a career-high 28 points in Wilton’s win over Kolbe Cathedral in the Wilton Holiday Tournament championship game, earning MVP honors.
That was followed by three more 20-plus performances, including a 25-point, six-assist effort against Staples on Jan. 9 in which he nailed six of eight 3-pointers. Despite an off-night against Warde he led the Warriors with 24 points and five treys.
After nine games, Cunningham leads Wilton in scoring (18.7 ppg), assists (2.9 apg) and steals (2.6 spg), and was 33-for-67 on 3-pointers (49%). Overall he was shooting 47% from the floor.
“It definitely has surprised me. I thought I was doing a lot of good things other than scoring before the Kolbe game — my shots weren’t necessarily falling as much as I would have hoped. But definitely that Kolbe game helped get my confidence back on my shot,” he said.
Over the four-game stretch starting with the Kolbe game, Cunningham averaged 25 points per game, shooting 56% from the floor, including 55% (17 for 31) from beyond the arc.
“Scott has been great for us this season. Last year he was a catch-and-shoot player for the most part,” said head coach Joel Geriak. “Scott has put in endless hours of gym work, skill work, and studying not only his game but how our team plays, and does everything in his power to help us win basketball games. He may be our top scorer this year, but if he only scores two points and we win, he is the happiest player in the gym.”
Last season was his first at Wilton High, as he had spent two years at Fairfield Prep. His background is pretty much all basketball, from “the time I could walk,” and from sixth grade on, basketball has been his only sport.
A lot of that comes from his family, as he first grew to love basketball playing with his older siblings. His sister Erin, a 2015 WHS grad, is the all-time scoring leader for Wilton girls basketball, and led the Warriors to the state title in 2015.
In his first season for Wilton last winter, Cunningham was one of the team’s top eight or nine players, playing in every game and averaging 5.3 points per game — mostly as a spot-up shooter. He scored in double figures five times, including 20 in the finals of the holiday tournament at Staples. Other games, he saw limited minutes.
This year, Cunningham and the team’s two other returning guards, senior Kyle Maatallah and junior Nick Kronenberg, have become much more of a multi-dimensional threat. Because of that, losing last year’s backcourt tandem of Matt Kronenberg and Drew Connolly hasn’t been quite as devastating as it might have been.
In last week’s win at Staples, those three guards got to the lane and scored or set up teammates, and all three shot lights-out from beyond the arc. The result was a combined 56 points, 11 assists and 12 3-pointers.
Cunningham said the varsity minutes played last season definitely helped, but he also pointed to the fact that all three guards, along with junior guard Kyle Phillips, played together on the JV team last year.
“One of the cool things about this year’s guards that many people don’t know is that we all played JV together, with the exception of Antonio (Brancato). So everything we are doing this year we were doing last year at the JV level,” he said. “Another reason we were able to step into bigger roles was the fact that we’ve been in big games last year off the bench. Nick, Maatallah, Phil, and I all played in that (FCIAC championship) game against Ridgefield at Alumni Hall and other big games. Although are roles are different, the speed is the same.”
While he played his assigned role on varsity last year, on the JV team Cunningham was the point guard, handling the ball, attacking the basket and shooting off the dribble. That experience is paying off this season.
“I was able to learn the offense from up top and work on things against lesser competition. I also put a lot of time into my game this summer. I had a group of college basketball players that I would work out with every morning. They helped me add the attacking part of my game against high-level competition,” he said. “They would push me to get better, and everything we did was game speed.”
“Scott has put in more work than anyone I have coached. So him finding success is not a surprise to me,” said Geriak. “Every time I would say to something to him, he would work on that and get better. He is like a sponge as far as getting information and applying it to his game.”
Cunningham will be taking that work ethic and talent to Colorado College next winter, where he will play Division III ball.
But for now, for returning players like Cunningham, Maatallah, Kronenberg, Phillips, Kyle Shifrin, Robbie Hermann and Ryan Schriber, the focus is on taking care of unfinished business.
After coming so close to winning their first-ever FCIAC title, the Warriors are determined to not let it slip away again.
“Hearing that we were going to fall off this year inspired the players coming back to work harder. We are determined to keep the longest FCIAC playoff streak going,” Cunningham said. “We made history last year and we are looking forward to making more Wilton history this year.”