Sports Talk: D.J., Waterford’s pride and joy

Last weekend at Myrtle Beach, S.C., D.J. Cunningham capped his collegiate basketball career at UNC Asheville on an above-the-rim note.

The former Waterford standout was a Big South All-Tournament honoree for his play against Radford in the quarterfinals and Winthrop in the semis.

Cunningham scored a combined 35 points and grabbed 30 rebounds in the two games, which the Bulldogs split. The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-11, 240 pound redshirt senior also blocked six shots and altered several others.

Earlier this week, Cunningham was honored as the BCBSNC (Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina) Athlete of the Week.

UNC Asheville bowed out of the Big South tourney on Saturday when it dropped a heart-breaking 80-79 decision to Winthrop.

During that contest, Cunningham achieved a college milestone when he scored his 1,000th career point. He was also a 1,000-point plus career scorer at Waterford.

In the Friday game vs. Radford, he set a school standard and tied a tourney record with 19 rebounds.

When all was said and done in the tournament, Cunningham became the Bulldogs’ fourth all-time leader in rebounds with 819 career boards and leader in blocked shots with 281 swats.

In the nation this season in NCAA Division I, Cunningham is ranked fourth in blocked shots, averaging almost four per game.

During his career at Asheville, he has more than held his own against opposing big men. Just ask 6-9 Jared Sullinger, who now plays for the Boston Celtics in the NBA.

In late 2010, when Sullinger was with Ohio State, he had one of his shots blocked by Cunningham, and was outpointed by the Bulldogs’ pivot player, 13-9, in a game at the Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus.

Oh, yes, Cunningham also grabbed seven boards in that game against the Buckeyes.

Needless to say, Cunningham has come a long ways since his halcyon days at Waterford, an Ohio Division IV school in Washington County. After graduation, he got an opportunity to compete at the Division I level, and he made the most of it.

He knows a little bit about adversity, too, having had to sit out the 2011-12 campaign at Asheville due to a knee injury.

Thing is, while Cunningham is a fierce competitor on the basketball floor, he has a gentle side to him. Off the court, he has befriended 13-year-old Hunter Davis, who has Down syndrome. Earlier this year, a story on their friendship was featured in a local Asheville newspaper.

As for Cunningham’s future in basketball…well, that remains to be seen.

Wouldn’t it be cool, though, if he crossed paths again with Sullinger?

Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441 or at