It is a simple sentence, but it explains so much about Centerville junior point guard Gabe Cupps.
“Gratefulness leads to grittiness,” Cupps said.
It is that grittiness that doesn’t show up in the box score that separates Cupps from most players.
Taking charges, diving for 50-50 balls on the floor or throwing his body out of bounds to save a ball don’t show with points (14.2), assists (6.8) or rebounds (2.5), but they are part of the chemistry that makes Cupps tick.
“I saw it in my parents and grandparents growing up,” Cupps said. “They were never given anything.
“Everything they have they worked hard and earned and I learned that work ethic from them.”
That work ethic culminated Wednesday when Cupps was named the 35th winner of the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association Mr. Basketball becoming the first Elk and Greater Western Ohio Conference player to earn the honor.
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Sincere Harris was runner-up in a field that included Sean Jones of Gahanna-Lincoln, Elmore James IV of Lyndhurst Brush, T.C. Molk of Dover and Sean Craig of Sylvania Northview.
Cupps joins a club that includes current NBA players Luke Kennard (a two-time winner) and LeBron James (a three-time winner) and admits the names in the group is a little weighty compared to him.
“It is super cool,” Cupps said. “I never thought about winning Mr. Basketball and these guys are at a super high level.
“I think of how I was raised as a farm kid in St. Paris and looking these guys have pretty good gifts they were blessed with. I hope I am setting an example for how hard work can get you anywhere you want to go and I hope it is something the younger kids see.”
Cupps moved to Centerville in the third grade when his father – Brook – became the head coach of the Elks, but kept the same hard-nosed work ethic.
Not to mention that gratefulness that lead to grittiness.
“The reason I play so hard is because of how grateful I am for the game,” Cupps said. “What if I was never able to play the game the way I can? How lucky am I to be able to play the game and to play something I love so much?
“I know it is cliché, but that’s why I play every game like it is my last game, my last practice, my last shot, my last pass, my last dribble. I am just grateful to be able to do something I love so much.”
Cupps jokes his family says he is a competition addict.
He loves the game within the game.
And, if he’s playing, he’s playing to win.
“It doesn’t matter if it is checkers or horse in the backyard, or a basketball game” Brook Cupps said. “He’s not joking and I think that translates to how he plays.”
As a child, Cupps would go to the basement and work on dribbling with his left hand, then his right hand.
He would pick a spot on the wall and challenge himself to have 50 straight good passes to that spot with his left hand and his right hand.
Brook would reward him with a sticker – something he picked up from when he played at Graham for the legendary Dave Zeller – and Gabe would eat it up.
“I had a giant sticker board in my room and I put all the stickers I got on it so I could keep track,” Gabe Cupps said. “It was setting mini-goals for me and I think that helped develop my passion.”
It is a passion that has carried over to the Breakfast Club.
Every morning, Cupps – and a lot of his teammates – are in the gym by themselves getting up shots.
He has not missed one since before he was in junior high even though it starts at 5:30 a.m.
“I am not thinking about the hours of sleep I am missing,” Cupps said. “I am thinking about of it as an opportunity to work and get better.”
Gratefulness to grittiness.
That is why the Indiana commit often leaves the court with new bruises from diving out of bounds to save balls, hits the floor to get loose balls and takes pride in drawing a charge on the defensive end of the floor.
“What he struggles with is people who don’t do that,” Brook Cupps said. “When he was being recruited, a lot of the coaches talked to him about that and how much they loved that passion to play the game.”
The award caps off a year that saw Cupps become the fourth player in Elks history to go over 1,000 points. He also set the school career assist record, helped lead the team to 45 straight wins and made the rounds of college visits before picking Indiana over a final three that included Stanford and the Ohio State University.
In all, it has been a surreal year.
“I never really thought it would happen,” Cupps said. “I wanted to go Division I and I was going to work as hard as I could to make that happen.
“It shows that you can still get what your goal is and that for all that hard work, you get something for it.”
The work is his home.
Brook has heard from people that they wonder if he will maintain the same work ethic when he gets to Indiana.
Watching him from the time he was working on dribbling with his left hand in the basement as a child to being in the gym at 5:30 a.m. the day after dropping the state title game this year, he has no doubt it will never leave.
“Work is home base for him,” Brook Cupps said. “If something is going good for him, it is because of the work he put in. If things are going bad, he will be in there because he wants to get better.
“It’s his mindset. It’s what he does.”
And, it is a mindset he will take into next season when he has new wingmen after fellow first teamers Tom House and Rich Rolf head off to college.
“I am just going to work as hard as I can,” Cupps said. “I am going to let the game play out the way it can, but it is another opportunity for me to play the game I love.
“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody, I am just going to play as hard as I can.”
John Cummings is a sports writer for the Centerville Dispatch and Miami Valley Newspapers, and also provided this story on behalf of the OPSWA.