The NBA invited all of the top college prospects to its draft combine last week in Chicago, and Villanova's Dante Cunningham was among them.
Before the 6-foot-8 senior led the Wildcats to the NCAA Final Four this past season, his chances of being included in such a select group were suspect. As a junior, Cunningham averaged 10.4 points and 6.5 rebounds in a solid season for a 'Nova squad that made the Sweet 16 and finished at 22-13.
This past winter, he rolled - and so did the Wildcats.
In a 30-8 season, the Wildcats reached the Final Four for the first time since 1985, knocking off a Murderers' Row of UCLA, Duke, and Pittsburgh before losing to eventual national champ North Carolina.
Along the way, Cunningham's profile was raised, as was his team's. Playing against a few of the nation's traditional stalwarts, the native of Silver Spring, Md., made some key shots, averaging 15.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in the tournament and collecting 12 points and 12 rebounds in the loss to the Tar Heels.
"As things developed, I could see my game developing," said Cunningham, who topped the Wildcats with 16.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season. "And understanding that you're becoming better and your team is becoming better, it kind of happens that way. You give it all to your team. When you're selfish and trying to get yours, you won't get what you want in the end."
Cunningham was rewarded for his efforts when he was honored as the Big East Conference's most-improved player and was named second-team all-league behind the duo of Luke Harangody of Notre Dame and Sam Young of Pittsburgh.
The 6-8 Harangody led the Big East in scoring with 23.7 points per game and was second in rebounding with 12.1. Young averaged 18.8 points and shot 50.5 percent from the floor.
Cunningham, however, probably was better than both Harangody and Young when it came to intangibles. As the Wildcats' unquestioned leader, he set the tone for a successful season by consistently playing at a high level and holding his own against high-profile opponents.
"Dante is the consummate team player, and he plays well with other great players," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "He'll do all of the little things - dive for a loose ball, defend the best player, set a screen. He can defend all five positions from the [center] to the [point guard]. He doesn't care if he doesn't get the ball. He'll continue to play hard every possession, and he'll do whatever it takes."
Cunningham said he was disappointed with the format of this year's combine, where five-on-five scrimmages were scrapped in favor of drill work.
It robbed him of the chance to go against such heralded players as Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough.
As of last week, Cunningham had worked out for San Antonio and Miami. He is considered a possible second-round selection.