A senior now, Centerville’s Cupps keeps working at his craft

CENTERVILLE -- Gabe Cupps never stops trying to become the best basketball player he can. He and some teammates hit the court for an hour before school every morning in the Centerville High School gym at 6:15.

The start time might change on other days, but Cupps doesn’t even take a holiday off.

“I’ve never been taught another way to become better at something other than just working at it as much as you can,” he said. “When I say I want to be the best player that I can be, it seems pretty reasonable for me to assume that I need to work out as much as I can.”

Cupps’ work ethic translated into much team and personal success during his first three years of high school. He helped lead the Elks to the Division I state championship as a sophomore. He led them back to the final last year only to lose to Pickerington Central (the Elks play them again Dec. 17 at Nationwide Arena). Then sports writers across the state voted him Mr. Basketball.

Cupps, a 6-foot-2 point guard, grew up playing AAU ball with Bronny James, the son of Lebron James, in gyms full of people who came to see the son of a superstar. Cupps has started every game since his freshman season. He recently signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Indiana as a 4-star recruit.

The Elks graduated several seniors, including all-state players Tom House and Rich Rolf, but head coach Brook Cupps’ program has the talent to remain among the state’s elite.

Jonathan Powell, a 6-6 junior four-star shooting guard with offers from Dayton, Ohio State and many other high-level programs, transferred from Chaminade Julienne. Collin O’Connor, a 6-3 senior, transferred from Tecumseh where he averaged 22 points a game last year.

The other big addition came later when 6-8 Dulgunn “Tommy” Gankhuyag moved to Centerville from Northeast Ohio where he played for prep team ISA Andrews Osborne. He is from Mongolia and was a teammate at ISA of Dayton freshman Mike Sharavjamts, who is also from Mongolia. The move was motivated to be able to watch Sharavjamts play for the Flyers.

The Elks also welcome back defensive specialist Emmanuel Deng and super sub Kyle Kenney, both seniors. Senior Matt Wilkins and junior Bobacarr Njie, both 6-6, move into the rotation.

Cupps is excited for his senior season and has answers to lots of questions high school basketball followers might have.

What’s it feel like being a senior?

“The difference that I feel is the guys that are around me. I can see that they’re seniors more than I can feel like I’m a senior. And Tom and Rich, those guys not being here that’s what makes it feel a lot different. I’m telling myself that it’s my last year so that brings that sense of urgency to me.”

What did being named Mr. Basketball change?

“Not much. That was a reflection of the guys around me. They made me look really good, and so that’s as much of a team award as it is for me. That was never my goal. That was never what my work was set out to accomplish. Everyone asks me am I going to try to win it again this year. No, I’m not going to try to win it. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve always done and what I know.”

How important were your young AAU days?

“Just that exposure to that level of competition and that pressure that went along with that team. The crowds that Bronny brought, just that pressure of having to perform at that early of an age really gave me a head start. Guys sometimes don’t experience that until they get to high school and sometimes into college.”

What is dad like as a coach?

“Very accountable. His teams have been successful because he’s never going to waver on what he thinks is right. He’s super hard working, obviously, and he gets overly prepared for everybody no matter who.”

Do you always like dad as a coach?

“I wouldn’t say always, but most of the time. He knows how to push my buttons. He sometimes chooses to push those buttons and get personal with how he’s coaching me. That’s really hard not to do when you know somebody as well as your son. It’s all worth it in the end.”

What’s dad like as a dad?

“He’s very unselfish. He always is about his family instead of him. He puts everybody else before himself. He just loves what he has. He doesn’t want anything else.”

How are you trying to improve?

“Finishing around the rim and getting stronger because I know I’m going to need that this year and in college. And shooting off the dribble, getting it off quicker and getting my shot up in the air a little bit more to get over taller guys.”

Why Indiana?

“It ties into my family always being a basketball family. That’s what the state of Indiana feels like, and that’s what the school feels like. It feels like it’s an all-out love for Indiana basketball.”

Can this team win state?

“We definitely have a chance to. Like in years past it’s definitely not our goal. But if we can put our pieces together and buy into the team over just an individual pride, we definitely have a chance at it.”

What did you think when you found out you were playing (Pickerington) Central again?

“It’s good.”

Anything else you want to say about that?

No.

About the Author