CENTERVILLE, Ohio (BVM) — Gabe Cupps is already finding out what it takes to compete at the highest level. As just a sophomore, he became a state champion. As a junior, he officially committed to a Power 5, Division I college basketball program. He even has a relationship with arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, LeBron James.
It’s these experiences and more that make Cupps one of the top high school players in the state of Ohio, as he has continued to come a long way on his basketball journey. That journey began when Cupps was a little kid, falling in love with the game thanks to his dad who has been coaching the sport for over 20 years.
“I’ve always just kind of been around the game,” Cupps said. “I just happened to love it as much as my dad did. My love has just grown and grown from it as I’ve seen the life benefits and the life lessons you can learn from it.”
A good ball-handler, shooter and playmaker, Cupps is now shining on the court at Centerville, being able to play under his dad during his high school career.
“Basically, everything I’ve learned about basketball and a lot about life has been from him,” Cupps said. “Being able to see him interact with the game in a way that puts building better people before better players has been a really big life lesson for me. Just seeing his hard work and dedication to the game and how much he respects it has been something that I really take after.”
Admittedly, Cupps had to make an adjustment to start out his high school career, not only now playing under his dad, but also adapting to the physical nature at that level. Still, the guard averaged 11.2 points per game in his freshman season and helped the Elks to a district championship before losing in the regional semis to Moeller.
However, that experience would set the stage for a tremendous 2020-21 season, where Cupps and his team had high expectations going in.
“My goals for the season were to just improve as much as I could and to maximize the potential of our team,” Cupps said. “Overall, our team got a lot better as the season went on.”
A mid-season loss to a team Centerville was expected to beat served as a wakeup call for Cupps and his Centerville teammates. But that would end up spring boarding them to a deep postseason run that led all the way to the state championship game.
In the state title game, the Elks faced adversity again, as they were down eight points late in the contest to Westerville Central. However, the will and determination of Cupps among others helped them finish on a 9-0 run, winning 43-42. Cupps, who averaged 15.2 points and 4.9 assists throughout the season, finished with 16 points, three assists, three rebounds, one steal and no turnovers in the Elks’ title win.
“Us being able to come back from that just shows the resiliency of our team and the trust we have in each other,” Cupps said. “It would have been really easy to try to force shots or do something to try to get it all back at once, but we stayed true to what had worked for us throughout the season and that was just staying simple and staying together.
“When that final buzzer sounded … As we went through the tournament, I really wanted to win for those seniors. Those guys had sacrificed so much for the program and this team specifically that I was going to do anything I could to try to win them a state championship. So it was just kind of the relief that we were able to get that done and the joy for those guys that they were able to have their last game be a win.”
Coming off the incredible state title, Centerville is back on the court this season, hoping to make a deep run yet again. Although the team features a different lineup than last season, the Elks are still off to a fast start thanks to Cupps and another DI recruit, Florida State commit Tom House.
“I love Tom,” Cupps said. “He’s a super competitive kid and he works his butt off to be as good as he is right now. He’s never satisfied, he’s always trying to get better. On the court, I’m trying to find him all the time. Being able to play with a guy that can shoot it like that and has that work ethic and character is something you don’t see very much in high school.”
Winning state or playing alongside a Division I athlete are things not a lot of high school players always get to experience. However, for Cupps, it is quite familiar thanks to his AAU career growing up.
Initially, Cupps began playing organized basketball for Centerville Hustle, where he was able to learn more of the basics of the game. He then began playing AAU basketball with the North Coast Blue Chips, winning multiple national championships. Part of that was thanks to playing alongside LeBron’s son, Bronny James. Not only did the experience allow Cupps to taste success and gain plenty of attention, but he also formed a relationship with the NBA star and his son.
“It was an overall crazy experience with Bronny and LeBron being around it,” Cupps said. “You can imagine the fanbase and the attention we got which was wild and good for me just to be able to have that experience and be able to deal with that pressure.
“Before I was on the Blue Chips, it was surreal to be around those guys. As time went on, they just became like normal people and they are some of the nicest and most genuine people I’ve ever met. Bronny’s whole family is really great and they’ve always been really great to me. Bronny is a really great player and I know he’ll do great things.”
That exposure has continued as Cupps has continued to play at the AAU level for Midwest Basketball Club. College coaches have long been taking notice of the junior guard, and his recruiting process really heated up this past summer as a top-five player in Ohio.
Eventually, the 6-foot-2 guard narrowed down his college choices to Indiana, Stanford and Ohio State. Although he liked what Stanford had to offer on and off the court and was already close with many in the Ohio State program, Cupps ultimately decided he would join the Indiana Hoosiers in 2023.
— Gabe Cupps (@CuppsGabe) November 16, 2021
“Indiana contacted me in late June and showed some interest,” Cupps said. “Coach Woodson came to watch me play in Georgia for a summer league game and he must’ve really liked me because he called and offered me on my birthday. His purpose for being back at IU is really pure and genuine, and that’s something that really drew me to him.
“The thing that really sold me on them was Coach Woodson’s purpose but also just the love of basketball not only in the state of Indiana but around the community of IU. It just really drew me to it. I felt like just the way I grew up, with how much basketball means to me and my family, that Indiana was the place I was supposed to be.”
When Cupps officially made his commitment, he received a shoutout on Instagram from LeBron. The simple gesture means a lot coming from an athlete of that magnitude, and that kind of support continues to instill confidence in Cupps’ bright future.
— Alec Lasley (@allasley) November 17, 2021
“LeBron has always supported me, and I appreciate him a lot for it,” Cupps said. “That’s something that he doesn’t have to do, but he chooses to do just because he has really good character. He goes out of his way to make sure that I feel appreciated, just because he’s that good of a guy.”
Having an NBA superstar already in his corner only further fuels Cupps to reach what has been a long-time goal: competing professionally himself.
“The NBA has always been a goal of mine,” Cupps said. “It’ll take hard work. I’m not going to be the most athletic guy or the most skilled, but I’m going to play as hard as I can and just compete. It would mean a lot to me if I could get there.”
However, before that, Cupps wants to leave his mark elsewhere. It begins at Centerville, where Cupps hopes to cement a path for the players coming in behind him.
“Mostly just an example for those younger guys that are coming after me at Centerville,” Cupps said about what kind of mark he wants to leave on the program. “I want them to be able to look up to me and be able to model how hard I worked and how much the program meant to me.”
With Mike Woodson taking over at Indiana, the Hoosiers are hoping they can finally get back to the glory days that the program saw during the Bob Knight era. Getting back to the top of the mountain is something Cupps will strive for with the Hoosiers, as he hopes to be part of a potentially great turnaround.
“I think it would be really cool if Indiana got back to the top of college basketball where they belong, and that challenge is something that draws me in,” Cupps noted. “Whatever Coach Woodson asks of me, I’m going to trust him and do whatever he wants me to do if he thinks that’s a way we can win.”
But no matter where or what level Cupps is playing at, he will always continue to stay true to himself and his game. It doesn’t matter what it takes or how you get there, but on the top of Cupps’ mind any time he takes the court is simply success.
“My best attributes all come back to making the simple play and winning. That’s the most important thing to me. If I did what my team needed me to do to win, I think I played a really good game.”