An ode to success: A look back at Brock Cunningham's career at Texas

The winningest Longhorn in Texas basketball history has played his last game in the burnt orange and white. Let's look back at a career that will never be duplicated.

Texas Longhorns forward Brock Cunningham (30) celebrates the 81-65 win over Oklahoma State at the
Texas Longhorns forward Brock Cunningham (30) celebrates the 81-65 win over Oklahoma State at the / Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman /

On the night of March 13, inside the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, MO, Texas basketball would blow a ten-point halftime lead to the Kansas State Wildcats in the second round of the Big 12 Tournament.

The loss was not only a hapless ending to the Horns' 28-year tenure in the Big 12, but it meant sixth-year senior forward Brock Cunningham was still a lone win away from becoming the winningest player in Texas men's basketball history.

Looking back on the Texas basketball career of senior F Brock Cunningham

On April 17, 2017, then-Texas head coach Shaka Smart extended an offer to the rising senior out of Westlake High School in Austin. Less than four months later, Cunningham announced his commitment to the University of Texas. Little did anyone know that the three-star local product would become the winningest player in program history.

Cunningham brought energy and tenacity to every game, practice, and workout that elevated everyone around him. Dubbed the "glue guy" by players, coaches, and media alike, Cunningham was the definition of a player who did the dirty work.

Draw a charge? Dive on the floor for a loose ball? Send a message with a flagrant? Cunningham was your guy. As ESPN broadcaster Fran Fraschilla often said, "You love him if he's on your team, but hate him if you're playing against him."

“Brock is definitely a villain on the court, for sure,” Dylan Disu said. “I didn’t like Brock before I came to Texas. … Brock’s a guy that everybody hates playing against, but if he’s on your team, you love him to death.”

Cunningham redshirted in the 2018-19 season, learning under the tutelage of guys like Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski.

During the 2019-20 season, Cunningham played a combined 27 minutes in the first 24 games of the season. However, things changed in Ames, Iowa, on Feb. 15. The floundering Longhorns got blasted by 29 against a 10-14 Iowa State team. Texas was playing flat, uninspiring basketball, so Coach Smart turned to his bench and deployed his redshirt freshman forward.

Cunningham played 15 minutes that night in Ames, finishing with two points and one rebound. However, the four personal fouls he picked up in the 15 minutes of play showed that Cunningham was ready to enter the fray.

After averaging 1.1 MPG in the first 24 games of the season, Cunningham averaged 19 MPG, 3.3 PG, and 3.7 RPG in the remaining seven games. The Horns revitalized their season over this stretch, finishing the regular season and going on a 5-2 run. Looking back, this was the first sign that Cunningham epitomized winning.

Although we will never know if the Longhorns would have been one of the 68 teams in the 2020 NCAA Tournament, we learned something significant in the final weeks of the 2019-20 season: Brock Cunningham is here to stay.

Over the next two seasons, Cunningham embraced his role as the "glue guy" and energizer bunny off the bench. He played 13 MPG in 59 games, averaging 2.0 PPG and 2.7 RPG. Cunningham never scored more than ten points in a single game over those two seasons, but his worth as a team leader box score could not be measured.

Despite not attempting a shot, Cunningham's presence was felt in Texas' first NCAA Tournament win since 2014. In the 2022 Round of 64 victory over Virginia Tech, Cunningham picked up five fouls in 15 minutes of play. That was the thing about the Austin native; You always knew when he was on the court.

Cunningham returned for his fifth year and established himself as an invaluable bench piece on one of the best teams in the country.

The fifth-year senior doubled his scoring output from the season before to 4.6 PPG and shot a team-best 41.3 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. Although he was still the glue guy, Cunningham had developed an offensive game to be respected by the opposition.

Just when everyone thought that was it for the Austin native, Cunningham announced he would be using his COVID year and coming back for a sixth season. Texas basketball had some unfinished business, and Cunningham would be sure he was in the middle of it.

Cunningham played in all 34 games this past season, starting in 13. Although his three-point percentage dipped to 36.8, he was still a threat that defensives had to respect. More important, however, was Cunningham's ability to light a fire under a team that often fell into stretches where the focus was lost.

Although the 2023-24 season did not end how anyone within the Texas basketball program would have liked, Cunningham can take solace in becoming the winningest player in program history after the Horns took down the Colorado State Rams 56-44 in the Round of 64. The sixth-year senior contributed four points, four rebounds, and three steals in the win.

With his 110th win, Cunningham broke the record of 109 held by A.J. Abrams and Connor Atchley. He also finished his career with a program-high 147 appearances.

After Saturday's loss to Tennessee, the Texas locker room was filled with emotions reflecting on the career of Cunningham and fellow seniors Max Abmas, Dylan Disu, and IT Horton.

Cunningham played under three head coaches and, by my count, with 44 different teammates at the University of Texas. He embodied what it meant to be a Texan Longhorn, entrenching himself in the campus community.

No, Brock Cunningham won't be found in any scoring record books, nor will his jersey hang in the Moody Center rafters. But this kid from Austin, Texas, helped lead Texas basketball out of the lean years into bigger, brighter pastures.

If you want to complain and remember Cunningham for his often untimely flagrant fouls, that's your prerogative. I'll remember him as a leading pillar of Texas basketball in the early 2020s and the winningest player in program history.

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