While facing Marist in the Hudson County Tournament, St. Peter’s Prep senior Sean Cummings felt something wrong in his lower buttock.
“I felt something pull,” Cummings said. “It hurt so much that I had to sit it out. I did what I had to do to come back, but it was the kind of injury that lingered around.”
“I knew something was up with him,” St. Peter’s Prep head basketball coach Todd Decker said. “I knew he wasn’t right.”
Cummings played through the pain in the loss to Hudson Catholic in the county finale, then Paramus Catholic in the first round of the NJSIAA Non-Public A North state tournament.
When Cummings took the floor against DePaul last Saturday in the sectional semifinals, he felt like he was ready.
“After I hit my first two shots, I knew it was going to be my day,” Cummings said.
“He got some rhythm going and then I knew he was fine,” Decker said.
Cummings torched the nets for a career-high 25 points, leading the Marauders to a surprisingly easy 95-69 victory over DePaul, catapulting the Marauders into the state sectional championship game against Seton Hall Prep.
For his efforts, Cummings has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
The performance in his final home game at Prep completes a total transformation for Cummings, who wasn’t exactly in the right basketball frame of mind when he arrived at Grand and Warren.
“The biggest thing about me when I was a freshman and a sophomore is that I was lazy and lackadaisical,” Cummings said. “I didn’t realize what this was all about. I had all this talent around me and I wasn’t getting it done. I wasn’t going to play with what I was doing.”
Decker, who was first an assistant coach when Cummings arrived, then became the head coach last season, had a strained relationship with Cummings because of his liaise-faire attitude.
“Sean had to learn that he needed to put the time in to become a better player,” Decker said. “I had a good conversation with him, to help clear his head. He didn’t want to pay attention to detail. It just wasn’t happening for him.”
Cummings never thought of transferring out of Prep, like several of his teammates did over the years.
“It was never an option for me,” Cummings said. “Under no circumstances was I going anywhere, no matter who was leaving.”
Cummings didn’t have an option because his father, Gavin, was an All-County player for the Marauders during his playing days. Gavin Cummings went on to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell along with former Prep teammate Bill Herenda of North Bergen and helped them win the NCAA Division II national championship in 1988.
The younger Cummings spoke of the impact his father had on him.
“He was a big influence on me,” Sean Cummings said. “Not only because he went to Prep, but because by the day I could walk, I had a basketball in my hand. He also talked to me about the other things that go with the game. The stuff my father taught me, about basketball and about life, can’t be forgotten. He’s always there to guide me.”
“Gavin’s Dad is very involved with Sean’s life and development,” Decker said. “He has good parents who support Sean in every facet.”
Once the younger Cummings started to realize what he needed to do, he went to work.
“I hit the weight room, along with [Prep teammate] Austin Roche,” Cummings said. “I had the determination of wanting to get better. The weight room really helped me and changed the way I played. Coach Decker gave us a program to follow and it worked.”
“He made a big commitment in the weight room and it’s like night and day now,” Decker said. “He’s 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, but he’s now bench pressing 225. I was a straight shooter with Sean and no doubt, we’ve had a great relationship the last three years. He grew into an unbelievable leader. He’s one of my captains and one of three seniors. He made a commitment to get better and he changed a lot.”
Decker credits former Marauder Chase Fluellen, who is now at Kean University, for teaching Cummings about leadership.
“Sean has had a phenomenal senior year,” Decker said. “Both playing and being a leader, he’s meant a lot to the success of the team. I never have to worry about Sean. He’s like having an assistant coach on the floor, him and Trevis Wyche [who was a Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week earlier this season].
Added Decker, “Sean doesn’t care about points. As long as we win and play well, he’s just as happy scoring six or seven or 20.”
Cummings is averaging 12 points and almost nine rebounds per game. He’s also made 30 3-point shots, showing his versatility.
Cummings is not worried about college just yet. He’s had a lot of looks from some NCAA Division II and III schools.
“I’ll worry about school when the season ends,” Cummings said. “Right now, I’m trying to win a state championship.”
The Marauders won the state sectional title in 2010, when Cummings was a freshman. The last team to win a sectional before that was the 1984 team, led by Gavin Cummings. The Marauders have not won an overall state championship since 1952.
“I want to do better than my father,” Cummings said. “I want to win it all.”
The Marauders, now 22-6, need to get past Seton Hall Prep this week, then worry about the state title.
“People wrote us off this year,” Cummings said. “They said we weren’t going to be very good. But we’ve proved them wrong.”
So Cummings can look back at the roller coaster ride he’s had at Prep and say with pride that he made it.
“It was well worth it, going through the whole process,” Cummings said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.