Coming into the summer, Naasir Cunningham didn’t set out to be considered the top player in the 2024 class.
Sure, he knew that most reputable national ranking services begin ranking players as sophomores, but Cunningham’s focus was more simplified.
“I just wanted to get better,” Cunningham said. “I know what I’m capable of on the court because I work really hard, so I just wanted to get better every game. That’s what I focused on.”
The tunnel vision approach translated into a productive summer averaging 15 points and nine rebounds a game while running with the NY Rens in the Nike EYBL.
“I feel like I played pretty good,” Cunningham said. “It was my first year in the Nike EYBL and Peach Jam, so I’d give myself a B. I know how to prepare even better now, so next time I expect more out of myself.”
When the proverbial dust settled from the summer, Cunningham’s production translated into being considered the No. 1 player in the class, an appointment even he was surprised by.
“I felt like I’d be around the top five, but I wasn’t expecting No. 1 if I’m being honest,” Cunningham said. “I knew I played well, but, like I said, I was focused on myself, so I didn’t know who else was doing what. The rankings came out right before Peach Jam, so I knew people were gonna come at me.”
It was immediately evident that he was right, but Cunningham said the bull’s-eye created a chip that made him raise his level of play across the board.
“I had to match their intensity,” he said. “I wasn’t gonna be outworked and those guys were coming hard because I was ranked above them. It helped me out a lot. That whole experience taught me a lot. It’s been a lot different since the ranking.”
College coaches are already lining up to make inroads with the 6'7" combo guard.
As it stands, Rutgers, Creighton, LSU, TCU, DePaul, Nebraska, Texas Tech, Connecticut, New Mexico State, St. John’s, Illinois, Michigan and UCLA have all expressed interest.
Cunningham has already visited Connecticut, UCLA and USC. He visited St. John’s this past Friday.
“I’m young, so I get excited, and it makes my day when I hear about new offers,” Cunningham said. “The St. John’s Midnight Madness was exciting! I know I’m getting offers before they can contact me directly, so it’s pretty cool.”
The added attention is warranted, Cunningham is an elite playmaker with great length and feel. He’s adept at getting to his spots and shooting over the top of defenders, using a combination of his shiftiness, quickness and ball handling ability then finishing at the rim with authority. His motor remains in overdrive and perimeter shooting ability has improved over the summer.
“That’s one of the main things I’ve been working on,” Cunningham said. “I have to have 2,000 made shots at every workout, so I’ve put in the work for sure. I have a strong circle with my parents and my coaches. I don’t want to be someone who’s No. 1 then slowly falls every year. I’m at the top, but I know that only means the harder work starts now because it’s harder to stay on top.”