Growing up, Brendan Cunningham always went down to the park and played basketball with his friends. Almost every time, his little sister Liana would beg to tag along.
In the summer, the two would get up bright and early in the morning to go to the park and play basketball until the sun went down. They would play for hours and hours, and their parents would bring down coolers full of waters and Gatorade so they could stay hydrated during those hot summer days.
“Our parents insisted that I would take her. I would give in and bring her down to play, and she was usually the best one out there,” Brendan Cunningham said. “She didn’t like when my friends would take it easy on her. She would tell me to tell them to play some defense. Liana wanted a challenge. She was the quickest and smartest one out there. After a while, I wanted her to come play with us. I could tell at a young age she was going to be special.”
Now, Liana Cunningham is a MASCAC Conference Champion at Framingham State University, and Brendan Cunningham is an Assistant Coach for Eastern Nazarene Men’s Basketball.
The two siblings grew up enjoying a love for basketball together, and still do to this day. Both have always done their best to attend each others games, or watch them online.
With Brendan being four years older, he was the first to reach high school and lace up his basketball shoes for Quincy High. He was a varsity captain for two years and a Patriot Ledger All-Scholastic, but the best part of playing for the Presidents came when his little sister watched in the stands.
“At that time she was in middle school and was really starting to get into basketball,” Brendan Cunningham said. “You could see when she watched the game how locked in she was.”
When she came to the games, Liana would sit on her own, so she could watch her older brother play without any distractions. Whether it was watching him nail three-pointers, or taking it to the basket, it was an experience she won’t forget.
“Watching my brother play in high school was an experience like no other. He seemed like a celebrity to me and I couldn’t be prouder of him and all that he’s accomplished. He made my dreams seem achievable because he was reaching them,” Liana Cunningham said. “I wanted to be just like him when I watched him and I’ll never forget those games.”
Then, Liana reached Quincy High School herself and etched her name in President’s history as a two-time Patriot Ledger All-Scholastic, a two-year captain, a two-time Patriot League All-Star, and holds the program’s records for single-season assists (125) and career assists (366).
While Liana was in blue and white, Brendan Cunningham was storming the court at Mount Ida College, where he became 5th on the All-Time three-point list in program history.
“I’ll never forget the day when the Mount Ida Coach came up to my dad and told him that he was heavily interested in Brendan,” Liana Cunningham said. “I was young at the time, so I knew to be quiet during their talk, but I had so much to say about my brother I couldn’t contain it. I was so proud of him and couldn’t stop smiling.”
Soon, Liana began her time with Framingham State and was named Rookie of the Year in her first season, and then dawned a MASCAC Championship medal after the team won the title this past season.
After each game he came out to, Brendan would take her to get food, even with his busy schedule.
“Seeing her play in her first college game, it was a proud moment for all of us. All her hard work paid off. It has been a great feeling seeing her play point guard at Framingham state,” Brendan Cunningham said. “She has held her own in her first two years, and I know there is more she has in her.”
While Liana is still playing in college, Brendan Cunningham is now coaching at that level.
For the past four years, he has worked at the Boston Celtics Camps as a counselor. Through some small talk with Celtics Coach Brad Stevens, he was invited by the coach to attend one of the team’s practices. His little sister was there as well of course.
Later in September of last year, Brendan received a call from the Head Coach of Eastern Nazarene, who asked if he was interested in becoming one of his assistant coaches.
The coach had heard about him through his AAU program he coaches, Rise Above. It was the first time he was an Assistant Coach and not a Head Coach. But, the responsibilities and takeaways were greater than he thought.
“I thought I knew a lot about basketball, but those first few weeks I was wrong,” Brendan Cunningham said. “I learned a ton though in my first season.”
“I was so ecstatic for my brother. This was a huge opportunity and it made him one step closer to reaching his ultimate goal. I went to his first game of the season and again sat by myself to watch the game with no distractions,” Liana Cunningham said. “I was so impressed with everything, but more importantly I was so proud of my brother, my role model, and my best friend. He looked like Brad Stevens out there, and I could tell right away that this was where he was meant to be.”
But beyond his coaching with Eastern Nazarene, Quincy High teams, and his AAU team Rise Above, Coach Cunningham makes time in the summer to train his younger sister on the basketball court.
“Summer time is the best time with my brother, it’s like the younger days when we would go to the courts all day in the hot sun and just play until we couldn’t no more,” Liana Cunningham said. “I am so lucky for him, he’s helped me so much to elevate my game. But don’t worry, it’s not like he’s getting nothing out of it. We do get ice cream after all the time and I pay…occasionally. Sorry BC. I’m on a tight budget because of college!”
So, even though the two have gone down different paths, they still come back to the start and tear up the Quincy courts.