When Gabe Cupps prepared to be Centerville’s starting point guard as a freshman, he asked his coach, who is also his dad, some important questions.
“How do I know when to shoot it, or when to go attack or when to pass it?”
Brook Cupps’ response: “You’ve got to feel it out.”
Three seasons later, Gabe Cupps has found an elite feel for how to play high school basketball.
Cupps filled his junior season with highlights and notable victories. The Elks won every regular-season game against possibly the toughest schedule in Ohio. They made it back to the Division I state final but were denied a second straight state championship by Pickerington Central.
The star that began to rise across Ohio in the 2021 state tournament shone even brighter this season. So bright that Gabe Cupps is this year’s Mr. Basketball as voted on by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association.
“It’s really cool,” said Cupps, the ninth junior to win the award since its inception in 1988. “It just makes me think about all the work that I’ve put in to get to this point. Obviously, there’s a bunch of guys in the state that could have easily been selected for it. I’m just grateful.”
Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary’s Sencire 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.
Now in its 35th year, the award was first given by the Associated Press in 1988. It has been voted by the Ohio Prep Sportswriters Association since 2017.
Some Mr. Basketball winners were big scorers. But Cupps was the third-leading scorer on his team at 14.2 points per game behind fellow first-team all-state selections Rich Rolf and Tom House. Cupps could score when needed and shot 50.3% from the field, 44.3% from 3-point range and 85.2% from the free-throw line.
What set Cupps apart was his playmaking. He averaged 6.8 assists with a high of 13 and his assist-to-turnover ratio was 6.4. His ability to penetrate usually resulted in a layup, a pull-up jumper or a pass to an open 3-point shooter.
“He has the ability to impact the game, regardless of how many points he scores,” Brook Cupps said. “He finds ways to impact winning.”
Brook Cupps teaches his players to play the game the right way, to work hard and to be unselfish. Father and son agree that the resulting team success is a factor in winning the award.
“He’s deserving and there’s a lot of other kids that are very deserving as well,” Brook Cupps said. “When teams do well, you start looking to see why they’re doing well. We had a lot of guys that contributed to that, and Gabe was our leader on the floor and drove us. That stood out to a lot of people that watched us.”
In addition to the obvious goal of being a strong leader, three goals were set for Cupps this season. The first was to bring a competitive edge.
“Set the tone for the rest of the team to follow, whether that was getting up and pressuring the ball, not backing down from anybody, showing that we can compete with a team or, if it was a big environment, showing that we weren’t scared of anything,” he said.
The second goal was to create offense for himself and others.
“I just let the game come to me,” he said. “I think I do a pretty good job of making the right play at the right time. A big part of my game and a big part of this team was me getting guys involved.”
The third is what college recruiters have said they like: control the game.
“The biggest times I notice it is when we’re on a scoring run, or we just hit a shot, getting it out and pushing it aggressively,” he said. “And then on the other side of that, when we haven’t scored on two or three possessions in a row, slowing us down and not rushing into an offensive possession. It goes defensively too. I pick up and guard the ball and don’t let teams push it down on us and kind of control it that way.”
Indiana coach Mike Woodson liked the qualities of Gabe Cupps’ game so much that his scholarship offer led to Cupps’ commitment before the season. Cupps attended the Hoosiers’ First Four game earlier this month at UD Arena. Indiana fans were all over the arena.
“I wore a hat trying to go undercover, but a couple of them noticed me when I went and got concessions,” he said. “As I got up to leave the game, this dude that was sitting behind me the whole time, said, ‘Can’t wait for you to be at IU.’”
But Gabe Cupps has one more season at Centerville. He will miss the five departing seniors but said he is looking forward to the challenge of the feel of a new team. Then he will leave for Indiana.
“Watching Indiana play and picturing myself there, it still seems like it’s not really going to happen,” he said. “But eventually it will, and I’m super excited for it.”
He can almost feel it.
Miami Valley Mr. Basketball winners
2022: Gabe Cupps, Centerville
2019: Samari Curtis, Xenia
2015: Luke Kennard, Franklin
2014: Luke Kennard, Franklin
1996: Jason Collier, Springfield Catholic Central