When Clint and Kelsey Cunningham were in elementary school, their Taylorsville home was a popular spot for basketball games.
Playing in the street with a portable goal became unsafe, so their father, Hugh, poured a concrete slab and put up a goal in the backyard. It was there that Clint and Kelsey honed their games to the point where they are now key players on powerful Columbus North teams.
“It got pretty serious out there,” said Clint, a senior forward for the 9-1 Bull Dogs boys. “We went after each other pretty hard, and I think it really did help both of us.”
Kelsey is a 5-foot-9 junior point guard and wing for the 14-0 girls team, which is ranked No. 1 in the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association poll and No. 15 nationally in Max Preps’ Freeman Rankings. She is being recruited by several mid-range Division I schools and wants to go into nursing.
Key stats: 4.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.6 bpg
Key stats: 8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.6 spg, 0.7 bpg
Clint, who is 6-6, is looking at a few Division II and III schools. He wants to study economics or finance.
“We play a lot in the backyard,” Kelsey said. “We set some rules that he couldn’t stuff me.”
“I spent a lot of time rebounding for Clint and Kelsey,” Hugh said. “We used to play a little two-on-two. I’d get out there and guard Clint, and it just got to the point where I couldn’t guard him anymore. He’d drive around me.”
Hugh played high school basketball at Fort Wayne Snider, where his brother, Bill, led the city in scoring and was Allen County Player of the Year in 1978.
Clint and Kelsey inherited basketball talent from their mom, Pam, who led Rushville (Ill.) to a third-place state finish. She once grabbed 12 rebounds in a game, one short of the tournament record. Pam played one year at Culver-Stockton College in Missouri.
“We both enjoyed basketball a lot,” Pam said. “That’s kind of what brought us together, too. Then when the kids got into it, it turned into a family thing, going to the tournaments and everything.”
“We’ve always been passionate about the game,” Hugh said.
Hugh’s and Pam’s youngest daughter, Claire, is a 5-9 sixth-grader at Taylorsville Elementary, and she plays basketball as well.
Kelsey, who averaged 5.5 points in helping last year’s team to a Class 4A state runner-up finish, has improved her ball-handling and 3-point shooting. She ranks third on the team with 8.5 points and 3.8 rebounds a game and she is second with 3.4 assists, 2.6 steals and 0.7 blocks a game. She is shooting 51.7 percent from 3-point range and leads the team with 83.7 percent free-throw shooting.
“She’s playing a level above right now where she was a year ago,” North girls coach Pat McKee said. “College coaches are extremely interested in her. She deserves major props for her focus and her work and all the progress she’s made.
“I think she’s made significant progress in her game, and I think the big thing is her strength. She’s gained a lot of strength in the weight room, and she’s always been quick.”
Clint, who is one of the captains for the boys team, averages 4.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 0.6 blocks.
“He’s a really great leader for us on and off the floor,” North boys coach Jason Speer said. “This year, he’s drawn the assignment often times of guarding the other team’s best player, and he’s done a great job of embracing that and then getting his points when they come. He’s just a blessing to have. He’s a great kid, great student and great basketball player.”
“We have a lot of guys who can score a lot of points,” Clint said. “We kind of need somebody who can step in defensively and shut down one of their best players, and I enjoy the role.”
The Bull Dog boys’ only loss came on a last-second shot at 4A No. 1 Pike.
“We’re happy with the way things are going,” Clint said. “I wish we could have beat Pike there, but all we can do is keep pushing on, and hopefully, we can finish out the rest of the season with all wins and go into the tournament with a little momentum.”
The North girls have beaten four consecutive ranked opponents, including Class 4A No. 1 Hamilton Southeastern and Class 2A No. 1 Evansville Mater Dei in Friday’s Hall of Fame Classic. Tonight, the Bull Dogs host Chicago Whitney Young, which is ranked No. 2 in Max Preps’ Xcellent 25.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, but we want to keep going and hopefully win state,” Kelsey said. “I know that I need to step it up this year so we can actually win state this time.”