Gabe Cupps isn’t expected to arrive in Indiana for more than a year, but his spring schedule has already sent him to Hoosier State on several occasions.
Playing for the Midwest Basketball Club, Cupps spent two weekends in Fort Wayne and another in Noblesville over the past month.
The Centerville, Ohio point guard has been an avid supporter of IU basketball since joining the program in November, and when he finds himself in Indiana, he’s noticed that love is reciprocal.
“It’s awesome,” Cupps said of the support he’s getting from IU fans during his second stop in Fort Wayne this weekend. “That’s one of the reasons I chose IU, it’s the support basketball has. They love basketball and so do I, so I think that’s cool.
While spring and summer basketball is often a chance for high school players to show off their skills to college coaches, Cupps is obviously at a different stage with his recruiting on the sidelines.
Cupps helped lead Centerville HS just outside Dayton to 45 straight wins, including a state championship in 2021 and a state runner-up in March. This season, he averaged 14.3 points per game, 6.8 assists (against just 1.1 turnovers), 2.5 rebounds and 2 steals per game.
Named Mr. Basketball of Ohio, Cupps accomplished just about everything he could in high school. But he knows a much bigger challenge awaits when he arrives in Indiana to stay next year. So for Cupps, this latest round of spring and summer basketball is all about getting ready for the next level.
And as a point guard and son of a coach, that means mastering the art of cultivating a winning team as much as developing your own game.
“I think I’m doing pretty well, I just have to keep playing hard, and at the end of the day I just want to win so I’m trying to make this group play as well as we can together, c ‘is the main focus,’ Cupps told the Daily Hoosier.
Cupps said he stayed in touch with IU staff. They attended some of his games this spring in Indiana and are providing commentary to supplement Cupps’ development plan.
“They watch as many of my games as they can,” he said. “Whenever they can give me advice, I try to take it, work on it and put it into my game.
“I just try to play against the best competition and try to see what I need to be able to do to get to the next level. I think finishing around the rim is important for me, and attacking guys on the dribbling and ball playback screens.
One thing no one has to remind Cupps about is competition.
Described by his family as a competition junkie, Cupps arrives at his home gym in Centerville every morning at 5:30 a.m. to work on his game.
“I’m just a competitor,” Cupps said. “I’ve always said I love competition and basketball, that’s how I do it. I mean obviously I’m skilled, but at the end of the day I’m just gonna fight like crazy.
Spring and summer basketball is where Cupps carved out his own little fame when he challenged LeBron James to a 3-point shooting contest before his junior year of high school. It went viral on social media.
This moment came after Cupps played on a travel team with James’ son Bronny. Thanks to LeBron’s interaction and support, Cupps now has 376,000 followers on Instagram. Coupled with the national appeal of Indiana’s program, Cupps seems well positioned to capitalize on his name, image and likeness in this brave new world of college basketball.
Of course, he will not pass up these opportunities. But Cupps knows that as well as anyone — his NIL value only goes as far as his game. If he’s not in the gym by 5:30 a.m., if he’s not competing, the value dissipates.
“I think that’s cool and I think college athletes should be able to (monetize their NIL),” Cupps said.
“I don’t pay too much attention to it because I love the game and that’s why I play it. I don’t play it for the fame, I don’t play it for the fans, I don’t play it for accolades – I love doing what I do.
That love for the game is what Indiana fans feel about Cupps. This is what leads them to watch the AAU spring games which ultimately don’t mean much. He may be from Ohio, but in many ways Cupps reminds people of an old-school kid from Indiana — a basketball addict.
And there’s an organic connection between Cupps and the fans, through their shared love of basketball.
Cupps and IU fans are hoping that when he finally arrives next summer, he can play an important role in the resurgence of the Indiana program.
Cupps is enjoying what he’s seen so far after Mike Woodson’s first year in charge of the Hoosiers – a season that brought IU back to the NCAA Tournament in Cupps’ hometown, where he sat in the stands in as one of those crazy First Four fans.
“I think Indiana should be at the top of college basketball, so I think that’s a really good step in the right direction,” he said.
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