University of the Incarnate Word Director of Athletics Dr. Brian Wickstrom has selected Dr. Carson Cunningham to lead the men’s basketball program, the athletics department announced Thursday.
“After a thorough search, we are pleased to announce Dr. Cunningham as our new men’s basketball coach,” said Wickstrom. “All of our final candidates who spoke with the committee participated in postseason play with their respective schools, and Dr. Cunningham’s background and experience align best with our university mission.
“After the interviews, I received calls from Gene Keady, former Purdue basketball coach, and Brad Stevens, the head coach of the Boston Celtics, and they reinforced my belief that Carson will be a successful NCAA Division I basketball coach. We are excited to welcome Carson, Caroline, Christy, Catie Joy, Mabelline Lucille, Case and Indiana to the UIW Family.”
Cunningham — the 2017-18 Frontier Conference Coach of the Year — joins the Cardinals after five seasons at Carroll College. At Carroll, Cunningham took a program that won just two games during the 2012-13 season and guided it to four consecutive winning seasons with two Frontier Conference regular season titles, two Frontier Conference Tournament championships and three NAIA National Tournament berths. During his five years with the Fighting Saints, the program recorded a 107-52 (.673) record. He was the fastest coach in Carroll history to reach the 100-win plateau, hitting the mark in just 150 games.
“It’s thrilling to join the University of the Incarnate Word — a school with a wonderful mission and super-dynamic academics — as its next head men’s basketball coach,” said Cunningham. “I’d like to thank AD Dr. Brian Wickstrom and the hiring committee for the opportunity to join such an impressive athletic program; one that is positioning itself for a bright future.
“It’s exciting to know that Dr. Tom Evans, President of UIW, shares with Dr. Wickstrom a deep appreciation for college athletics and for delivering positive, fulfilling experiences for UIW student-athletes. Knowing that the UIW men’s basketball program is part of the mission of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word and that the program gets to work with Sister Walter Maher, CCVI, Vice President of University Mission & Ministry, is deeply moving. My wife Christy and I, and our five children, want to let all UIW supporters know how much we cherish this opportunity. I can’t wait to get to work.
“I want to thank the Carroll College players and coaches I got to work with and Carroll at large for a wonderful five years. We made great memories together and my family and I cherish them.”
With Cunningham leading the charge in 2017-18, the Saints posted a 28-6 overall record and a 13-5 mark in Frontier Conference action en route to a regular-season conference title, a Frontier Conference Tournament title and their third-consecutive NAIA National Tournament appearance in as many seasons.
Carroll led the NAIA D-1 in field goal percentage (53.4 percent) and in free throw percentage (82.3 percent) for the third year in a row. Additionally, senior Ryan Imhoff was selected both Frontier Conference Player of the Year and NAIA National Player of the Year.
In 2016-17, the Carroll College men’s basketball team finished 29-6 en route to winning the outright Frontier Conference Championship, the Frontier Conference Tournament championship, and earning a No. 1 seed at the NAIA National Tournament. The Saints made it to the Final Eight for the second year in a row before succumbing to national runner-up, Life University, by a bucket.
The 2016-17 Fighting Saints finished with the best team field goal percentage (53.4 percent) and team free throw percentage (82.0 percent) in the NAIA. The team free throw percentage was higher than any NCAA college team and surpassed all NBA teams as well. Carroll also had the second-best three-point percentage in NAIA D-1 and the sixth-best assist-to-turnover ratio.
In 2015-16, the Fighting Saints made it to the Final Eight of the NAIA D-1 National Tournament — only the third Final Eight appearance at the time in the over 100-year history of Fighting Saints basketball. Carroll went 23-10 with a 13-5 Frontier Conference record.
The Saints ranked No. 1 in NAIA D-1 in shooting percentage (.507) and free throw percentage (.781), more than four percentage points better than the second-ranked team.
In 2014-15, Cunningham’s second season with the team, the Saints doubled their win total from nine to eighteen. In addition to finishing the season with an 18-11 record, Carroll was the NAIA’s second-best free-throw shooting team and ranked in the top twenty in points allowed.
In his first campaign at Carroll during the 2013-14 season, Cunningham took the Fighting Saints from two wins the prior year to nine wins and helped the squad lower its points allowed from 78.8 to 70.5.
Prior to coming to Carroll College, Cunningham spent five years coaching at his alma mater, Andrean High School, in Merrillville, Indiana. There, he took over a two-win team and guided it to an 81-39 record, including 43 wins in its final 50 games. In conjunction with his coaching duties, Cunningham was an instructor in the history department and the department of cinema and digital media at DePaul University in Chicago from 2006-13.
As a student-athlete, Cunningham spent his freshman season at Oregon State University, where he earned freshman All-America honors and broke Gary Payton’s freshman scoring record for Oregon State. Following his freshman season, Cunningham transferred to Purdue, where he became one of three two-time Academic All-Americans in Purdue history at that time. At Purdue, he also helped the Boilermakers to a pair of Sweet Sixteen appearances and a spot in the Elite Eight.
Cunningham spent three seasons playing professional basketball. He was with the CBA’s Gary Steelheads (2001-02) and the Rockford Lightning (2002-03 and 2004-05). He also played in the Estonian Basketball Association and in Australia. In 2009, he published, through the University of Nebraska Press, a book on the history of U.S. Olympic basketball.
Cunningham is the author of five books: Fallen Stars (Texas A&M Univ. Press, October 2017), 21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, American Hoops (a history of U.S. Olympic basketball, Univ. of Nebraska Press, December 2009), Underbelly Hoops, and Before the Curse, a collection of vintage stories about the Chicago Cubs during the team’s early glory years.
Cunningham earned a bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in history (2000) and a PhD in history from Purdue (2006), as well as an MBA from DePaul University (2013).
Cunningham and his wife, Christy, a former volleyball player at Purdue, have five children – daughters Caroline (12), Catie Joy (7), and Mabeline Lucille (1 year), and sons Case (10) and Indiana (5).