Villanova's Anderson, Cunningham are brothers on and off court
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- The letter, written in blue ink on a piece of loose-leaf paper, used to hang on a wall in
The night before the Villanova shooting guard departed for a year of prep school at St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.) in August 2004, he penned the note to remind his younger siblings of their added responsibilities. In parts, it reads like a will, bequeathing a Playstation 2 and television to David and their youngest brother,
As grown-up as Dwayne's letter comes across, he liked to thrill-seek, too. While a student at St. John's College High in Washington, D.C., he carpooled daily with Cunningham in his blue, box-shaped Jeep Cherokee. Nine townhouses separated their identical red-brick homes on Corona Court in suburban Silver Spring, Md. One grade level apart, they commuted to and from basketball games and practices together. Though the speedometer's gauge ended at 85 mph, Anderson, the level-headed one, pushed the marker past its posted limit.
"We really did 90," says Cunningham, who would stick his head out the window.
The driver conducted his own velocity test. "When the steering wheel started shaking," says Anderson, who will start alongside Cunningham for Villanova Saturday night in its Final Four matchup against North Carolina in Detroit, "I slowed down."
Anderson always seemed comfortable in the fast lane. A knock-down shooter and athletic slasher, the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder first played at the nearby Newport School as a freshman, but found himself searching for another team when the school disbanded that summer. Plans to fuse with national power Montrose Christian never came to fruition, so he transferred to St. John's, a co-ed Catholic school. There, Anderson met Cunningham, who had moved onto the block eight months after Anderson's family settled in 2003. A familiar face from the local Boys & Girls Club league, Cunningham knew Anderson's game. "He could jump out the gym," he says, "or shoot from anywhere."
Cunningham's role was simpler. "Dante did all the dirty work," Anderson says.
The son of two Air Force lifers,
Back stateside, Cunningham entered St. John's as a seventh grader but did not find his perfect complement until Anderson enrolled. Paired with Duke guard
The feeding process reversed itself off the court. Cunningham often ate at the Anderson house, enjoying barbecued chicken cooked by
Though both eventually made their way to Philadelphia's upscale Main Line, the best friends took decidedly different paths to get there. After graduating from St. John's, Anderson needed to improve his grades. On the advice of a friend, Anderson visited St. Thomas More. Taking Cunningham along for the tour, Anderson knew there was no way his friend would join. "Coach lost him when he asked if we were ready for all-boys school," Anderson says.
Anderson left, but Cunningham, who he calls his third brother, had his own decisions to make. A JROTC member, Cunningham wore the requisite cover: hat, belt with polished gold buckle, green long or short sleeve shirt and nametag, but needed to improve his grades to gain minimum NCAA eligibility. Enrolled in a night class to repeat freshman English, his schedule conflicted with St. John's practices so he transferred to Potomac (Md.) High, where his mother was in charge of JROTC, that fall. "It turned out to be the best decision for him," says St. John's coach
The choice to sign with Villanova was easier. "When I saw how beautiful [Villanova coach]
Villanova senior guard
When practice started, the guard's defensive deficiencies were exposed by Wright's attack-guards, Foye and
Cunningham learned from Foye, too. Ready to defer to the veterans, he quickly gave up the ball on dribble handoffs. Failing to grab a rebound in a game against Arizona, Cunningham was chided by Foye. "He told me even if the ball bounces in the bleachers I better get it," Cunningham says.
Charlotte Bobcats coach
With 4.1 seconds remaining and the score tied in a late-season game against Cincinnati, Cunningham broke through. Playing for an 11th straight win, the hustle-first forward started on the left wing, 19 feet from the basket, knowing he was the first read on the inbounds play. Cunningham ran his man into a back screen and stepped into the lane. Wide open, he took the bounce pass, powered up and banked the ball in for a layup. "We saw him do it in practice," says Wright, "but he would take a backseat in games."
Standing on the sideline, Anderson, who averaged 3.9 minutes and 1.5 points per game, kept his spirits up. "I'd look over at times and, even though he wasn't playing, he'd be the first guy off the bench clapping and he'd be dancing after scores."
His playing time increased slightly to 9.2 minutes per game his sophomore year. Friends suggested he transfer. "It was the toughest decision I ever made," says Anderson, who considered the example he would set for his brothers if he left. "I didn't want them to think that it was okay to just quit."
Anderson became the ultimate grinder as a junior, dominating deflection, rebound and dive stats in practice. To halt a mid-season slide, he hit a game-winning three against Seton Hall. It was not until last month that he found his shining moment, though. Two days after Cunningham was awarded the Big East's Most Improved Player honors, his running mate emerged on the Madison Square Garden court for a matinee thriller. With time running out in the Big East quarterfinal against Marquette, junior guard
"So many kids would have left," says St. Thomas coach
Personality-wise, Cunningham and Anderson, who have roomed together for four years, could not be more different. A night owl who still watches cartoons and enjoys racing remote control cars, Cunningham has nine tattoos, including one on his left biceps that reads "Trouble." A homebody who likes to go to bed early and has had a three-year relationship with his girlfriend, Anderson has no tattoos, but plenty of family pictures on his walls. "We're night and day," Anderson says.
When he needs Cunningham's help, as he did last winter on the way to a home game when a tire gave out, Anderson knows where to turn for a handyman. "We share duties now," says Cunningham, who fixed the tire in a timely fashion. "We're brothers in this together."