Junior center already has major college interest
BY TERRY MONAHAN
JAN. 10, 2022 10:14 PM PT
She arrived on the scene with a lot of hoopla.
As it turned out, it wasn’t just hype.
Breya Cunningham proved almost from the outset of her basketball career at La Jolla Country Day that she was the real deal.
Just out of eighth grade, the 6-foot-4 junior center not only made the varsity but was named a starter on a team with four guards and one true frontline player — Cunningham.
“The jump wasn’t too bad,” Cunningham said. “I had always played club ball with older girls, so that was no different.
“Learning how to play with and against taller, older, faster was just what I had to do.”
There was one notable exception in a game Cunningham played against a 6-7 opponent in a club game.
“I told my coach we would lose because I had never played against a girl that tall,” Cunningham said, laughing. “We lost by two, but I discovered the normal shots or boxing out don’t work on a girl that tall.”
At La Jolla Country Day, Cunningham has proven the decision to skip the lower levels and go right to the varsity was a good one.
With half of this season as well as her senior season left, Cunningham has already achieved a milestone.
She has 1,098 points and is on her way to 1,000 rebounds with 709 already.
As a freshman, she averaged 17.3 points and 11.8 rebounds as the Torreys reached the Open Division state championship game, which was cancelled the day before by the coronavirus outbreak.
“The news got worse and worse every day,” Cunningham said. “I was in math class when Te-hina (Paopao) texted me the game was off.
“I asked the teacher if I could leave class to go get more info on the game. All the seniors were devastated. Coach (Terri Bamford) was ready to make some angry phone calls about the state finals.
“I didn’t feel that bad because I had three more years to get to the state finals.”
On a team that went 32-1 that year, Cunningham registered 26 double-doubles in points and rebounds.
“She has played some of the best players in the nation,” Bamford said. “She runs the floor, stays on the ground on defense. She has the whole package.
“I’ve coached a lot of really good players, but she’s the best post player I’ve ever had. She just wants to win every game.”
Cunningham’s totals went to 16.6 points and 10.9 rebounds two years ago during the COVID-19 delayed and shortened season.
This season, Cunningham is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 21.4 points and 12.1 rebounds.
The Torreys are 12-2, ranked No. 1 in the county and No. 12 in the nation. The losses are to No. 3-ranked Rancho Cucamonga Etiwanda and Grandview of Colorado.
Over the weekend, LJCD upset unbeaten Sierra Canyon, ranked No. 5 in the nation, and there is a win over No. 20 Fremont from Utah.
Colleges have noticed how Cunningham is playing, her stats, what she contributes to her team and the low-key demeanor she embraces on the court.
Nothing seems to rattle her. You cannot tell from her facial expression if she’s playing well or bad or her team is winning or losing.
Cunningham spent a lot of hours reducing the list of colleges she was interested in down to the top eight institutions.
The top eight includes UCLA, UConn, Oregon, Texas, Duke, Arizona, USC and Notre Dame.
Her next assignment is getting that number down to five for recruiting trips.
“I want to have this all done before senior year,” she said. “It has been more stressful than I thought it would be. I’ve built some relationships with coaches and to have to tell them ‘No thanks’ is going to be tough.
“Coming to high school I had to choose between just three schools and that was tough. This decision is literally setting up the rest of my life.”
Cunningham plans to major in athletic training or kinesiology while extending a basketball career that began after a two-week stint in gymnastics when she was 4.
Her mom, Christania Houghton, was her basketball coach after she told her daughter there are no 6-foot gymnasts.
“I can still do a mean cartwheel, though,” Cunningham said.
It wasn’t until she was 7 that Cunningham said she understood the rules of basketball.
Now she also has played for the Under-16 USA team in the FIBA Championships in Mexico.
“That was fun,” Cunningham said. “The trials were stressful and when they called out my name as making the team it didn’t even register with me.”
Her name is now registering with more and more people all the time.
Monahan is a freelance writer.