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Rico Helping Put Lee in National Spotlight

December 29, 2010
By NAIA National Office

Dec. 29, 2010

Story courtesy of Lee Sports Information


CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The majority of sports enthusiast will quickly tell you that watching a dunk by a talented basketball player is no different than a home run in baseball or a touchdown pass in football. Ninety-five percent of the time you would likely have to agree.


There are always exceptions and Lee University’s (Tenn.) Larriques (Rico) Cunningham brings a different level of dunk to the game. His rim-bender on Dec. 7 against Freed-Hardeman University appeared on ESPN2 SportsNation the following evening. Later in the show it was pitted against an NBA highlight and put to a vote by the viewers. Even though the on-lookers picked the NBA dunker, the hosts selected Larriques’ dunk as the best.


Jeff Salyer, Lee’s Assistant Director of Video Production and Producer of Inside Lee Basketball, said dunking exhibitionist Team Flight Brothers also picked up Rico's dunk for their YouTube page and helped him get it on SportsNation.


To view the slam, go to Salyer says between the Lee page and Team Flight Brothers site, the dunk has received over 40,000 hits. Earlier in the year, Lee’s Johnny Godette (6-foot-4) appeared on ESPN when he dunked over a 7-footer from Bluefield College. 


Lee head coach Tommy Brown has been working with college athletes for over 13 years. He calls the 6-foot-5 Cunningham the most athletic guy he’s ever coached. “We take so much of what he does in practice for granted,” said Brown. “He hasn’t realized just how good he can be. He’s so humble. I promise you, he is something special.”


The native of Royston, Ga. is a long way from being compared to hometown hero Ty Cobb, a member of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, but coach Brown says his senior leaper has big-time potential.


Cunningham played high school ball at Franklin County (Ga.). He was only about 5-foot-10 during his first two years of high school and did not make the varsity basketball team until his junior year. However, during his senior year, Franklin County placed second in the region tournament. His club fought back and was finally eliminated in the second round of the state playoffs to the state’s top-ranked club.


It was during his senior year that the remarkable leaping ability of the slender athlete began to grab headlines and most of those did not come on the hardwood.


“I was playing around (dunking) with some other guys in the gym,” he said. “Our track coach saw us playing and asked me to come out for the team.” A couple of months later Larriques Cunningham was the Georgia Class AAA high jump champion with an incredible leap of 6-feet-10-inches.


Before coming to Lee, Cunningham played two years of basketball at Roane State Community College. He averaged almost 18 points per game, but was still a long way from reaching the “special” category.


“I have never really worked on jumping,” he confessed. “I could always run fast and jump. It is exciting to dunk and it does give me a good feeling. I guess the best part of being on ESPN was getting the phone call from my mother (Ann). It was a big surprise for her and several of my friends.”


Cunningham says he has plenty of dunks remaining for Lee fans, but his main objective is helping his teammates finish the regular season strong and make another solid showing in the national tournament. “When we are finished, I’d like to go overseas and play,” he allowed. “The Team Flight Brothers have been writing to me, but I’m hoping to get an opportunity to play pro ball.”


Coach Brown would love to see Cunningham get a shot at entering the National Basketball Coaches Association dunk contest. It takes place just before the NCAA Final Four kicks off. “It would give millions of fans an opportunity to see how special he really is,” stressed Brown. “Almost every day in practice he does something that amazes the staff.”


THE FLAMES (9-3) and Cunningham return to action on Thursday at 2 p.m., facing Trevecca Nazarene in the opening round of the Shorter University Christmas Classic.  


Championship Information

NAIA DI Men's Basketball Championship
Sports Rules - Basketball DI (M)