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Posted: Friday April 3, 2009 1:18PM; Updated: Friday April 17, 2009 8:46AM
Kevin Armstrong Kevin Armstrong >
INSIDE COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Villanova's Anderson, Cunningham are brothers on and off court

Story Highlights

Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham lived on the same block in Maryland

The pair first played together at St. John's College High in Washington, D.C.

Anderson did not emerge as a consistent threat until this season

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embrace.jpg
Dwayne Anderson (22) and Dante Cunningham embraced several challenges together on their road to the Final Four.
AP

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- The letter, written in blue ink on a piece of loose-leaf paper, used to hang on a wall in David Anderson's bedroom. To its left, the author, his older brother Dwayne, stood next to his old neighbor, Dante Cunningham, on a Villanova basketball poster. The mere mention of the missive's message today makes the boys' mother, Michelle, tear up. "I can't read it without getting emotional," she says. "I never knew if what my husband and I were saying got through to our children until I read that."

The night before the Villanova shooting guard departed for a year of prep school at St. Thomas More (Oakdale, Conn.) in August 2004, he penned the note to remind his younger siblings of their added responsibilities. In parts, it reads like a will, bequeathing a Playstation 2 and television to David and their youngest brother, Darian, known affectionately as Skittle; in total, it reveals maturation. Awake early the morning he left, Dwayne taped it to the brothers' shared bathroom mirror.

David and Skittle,

As you both know I have to leave, but I will always be with you no matter what. You two mean the world to me and I would do anything for the both of you. It might be a little hard not beating up on you two everyday, but I have to move on. Both of you better stay out of trouble because if I hear that you two are acting up you better believe I will come home somehow (train, plane, bus, it doesn't matter) ...

Always remember: listen to everything your parents tell you and you can never go wrong (did I just say that?). Man, I am growing up. I sound like an adult. Everyday I will work hard so I can give you everything. I love you two so much. Stay strong, stay handsome. Most importantly stay together. That's what family is for. Brothers for life...

As grown-up as Dwayne's letter comes across, he liked to thrill-seek, too. While a student at St. John's College High in Washington, D.C., he carpooled daily with Cunningham in his blue, box-shaped Jeep Cherokee. Nine townhouses separated their identical red-brick homes on Corona Court in suburban Silver Spring, Md. One grade level apart, they commuted to and from basketball games and practices together. Though the speedometer's gauge ended at 85 mph, Anderson, the level-headed one, pushed the marker past its posted limit.

"We really did 90," says Cunningham, who would stick his head out the window.

The driver conducted his own velocity test. "When the steering wheel started shaking," says Anderson, who will start alongside Cunningham for Villanova Saturday night in its Final Four matchup against North Carolina in Detroit, "I slowed down."

Anderson always seemed comfortable in the fast lane. A knock-down shooter and athletic slasher, the 6-foot-6, 215-pounder first played at the nearby Newport School as a freshman, but found himself searching for another team when the school disbanded that summer. Plans to fuse with national power Montrose Christian never came to fruition, so he transferred to St. John's, a co-ed Catholic school. There, Anderson met Cunningham, who had moved onto the block eight months after Anderson's family settled in 2003. A familiar face from the local Boys & Girls Club league, Cunningham knew Anderson's game. "He could jump out the gym," he says, "or shoot from anywhere."

Cunningham's role was simpler. "Dante did all the dirty work," Anderson says.

The son of two Air Force lifers, Ron and Searcy, Cunningham knew how to fall in line. Born on the Andrews Air Force Base, he left for Germany when he was 13 months old and lived there for four years, first in Zweibrucken, then Ramstein. Restless in the rustic setting, he started to play basketball as a 4-year-old. "His big ole head pulled the body," says older sister, Davalyn, who played a season in the WNBA.

Back stateside, Cunningham entered St. John's as a seventh grader but did not find his perfect complement until Anderson enrolled. Paired with Duke guard Nolan Smith, Anderson developed into a relentless force. Committing to Villanova -- the only Division I program to offer a scholarship -- after his junior season, his path seemed set. As a senior at the Iolani Classic in Honolulu, he shot 8-of-8 from the field and 3-of-3 behind the arc. "I shot," says Anderson, who also teamed with Cunningham on the D.C. Assault AAU squad. "Dante rebounded and passed back."

The feeding process reversed itself off the court. Cunningham often ate at the Anderson house, enjoying barbecued chicken cooked by Dwayne Sr., a disabled legal file clerk, and hot breakfasts prepared by the mother, a legal secretary. By day, Anderson would visit the Cunningham residence, teaming with his partner against the women of the house in spades. "They hid cards," Cunningham says. "You'd find them under feet."

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