By Troy Shockley, Helena IR
Two hundred seventeen coaches said they wanted their name on the door at Carroll College. On Tuesday, the school announced that Carson Cunningham was the right man for the job. The boys coach at Andrean High School in Indiana, Cunningham is the new men’s basketball coach at Carroll.
“My wife and I came out to visit Carroll and were just mightily impressed by all the people we met,” Cunningham said. “By the academics, by the athletics, by the town of Helena. We just got a great vibe. The folks who work at Carroll and the students there, you really got the sense that they believe in the mission of the institution. And that was contagious. We left hoping we could be a part of it, and we’re getting a great opportunity.”
Of the four finalists to interview for the job, Cunningham was the only one with no collegiate coaching experience — and in fact has only been coaching for five years at Andrean, his alma mater. But his teams have won 43 of their last 50 games. And inheriting a team that won just two games in the season before his arrival, Cunningham has led the school to four straight sectional titles.
HELENA - Dr. Carson Cunningham, the head boys’ basketball coach at Andrean High School in Indiana, has been named the new head men’s basketball coach at Carroll College, announced Saints’ Director of Athletics Bruce Parker Monday. Cunningham replaces Brandon Veltri, whose contract was not renewed after last season.
The former standout at both Oregon State and Purdue has spent the last five years at Andrean High School (his alma mater) in Merrillville, Indiana, where his teams have won 43 of their last 50 games. In five years at the helm, Cunningham has turned a program around that had won two games the season before he arrived into one that has won four straight sectional titles and has improved its win totals for five years running. This year, his Andrean team made it to the final four in Indiana’s second biggest class (3A) and was ranked #3 in the state.
“We are very excited that Carson has agreed to be our new head coach,” said Parker. “He brings tremendous enthusiasm and knowledge of the game to our program. He was an outstanding player and is a rising star in the coaching profession. His passion for the game is contagious and I have great confidence in his coaching and recruiting abilities.
“It was a very intense search process and I was pleased with the outstanding pool of candidates (217 applicants) that were interested in the job,” Parker added. “We feel that we have hired a great fit for Carroll College and a coach that will take our program back to the top of the Frontier Conference and the NAIA.”
Cunningham has also been an instructor in the history department and the department of cinema and digital media at DePaul University in Chicago since 2006. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history at Purdue University (2000), a Master of Arts in Modern American History (2001) and a PhD in History (2006), also at Purdue. He is also scheduled to complete his MBA at DePaul this spring.
"Carson brings with him a remarkable combination of excellent basketball and academic credentials,” said Dr. Tom Evans, President of Carroll College. “We welcome him and his family to the Carroll family."
The move to Montana from the basketball-crazy state of Indiana is exciting for the 36-year-old Cunningham.
“I’m thrilled to be named the head men's basketball coach at Carroll College,” said Cunningham. “My family and I have a deep appreciation for Carroll’s values and its academic and athletic excellence, and we can’t wait to become a part of the Helena community. The Carroll basketball program has a great tradition, and I look forward to adding to it.
“My family and I are leaving a great state, in Indiana, and a great school, in Andrean, but we cherish the opportunity to become a part of a world-class institution of higher-learning in wondrous Montana,” he added. “We are pumped to be Fighting Saints!”
Cunningham’s basketball resume is also quite impressive. He was a four-year starter at Andrean High School where he was the Region’s “player of the Year” as a junior and senior, a first team All-State selection and honorable mention All-America selection as well as earning the distinction as one of the nation’s top 100 players. He took his talents across the country to Oregon State University, where he was a starter as a true freshman at point guard, earning freshman All-America honors. Cunningham had 28 points against Texas and 26 vs. Nebraska as a freshman, when he scored in double figures in 22 games.
Following his freshman season, he transferred back to his home state of Indiana, joining Coach Gene Keady’s Purdue Boilermakers. He became a three-year starter and led Purdue to a pair of “Sweet 16” appearances and one spot in the “Elite Eight.” In his three seasons, Cunningham scored nearly 1,000 points, handed out near 400 assists and had 163 rebounds. He was also one of only three two-time Academic All-America selections in the history of Purdue, with the late legendary Coach John Wooden being one of the others.
Cunningham also spent three seasons playing professional basketball. He was with the Gary Steelheads (2001-2002) and the Rockford Lightning (2002-2003 and 2004-2005) of the CBA and the Estonian Basketball Association (2003). If his playing career wasn’t enough, he is also the author of three books – American Hoops, Underbelly Hoops – Adventures in the CBA and Before the Curse, a collection of vintage stories about the Chicago Cubs during their glory years.
“My approach to coaching is rooted in the very things that my collegiate coach, six-time national coach of the year Gene Keady, stressed while I played as the starting point guard at Purdue University; make academics and upstanding behavior paramount, embrace the concept of personal responsibility and have a positive impact on the community,” Cunningham noted. “These types of values translate into the development of quality basketball players, who are willing to work. I firmly believe that the lessons I learned from Coach Keady are invaluable, and will serve me well at Carroll.”
The Saints will return all five starters from last season’s squad, that included a pair of true freshmen Riley King (Frontier “Freshman of the Year) and Jake Hollifield. They will be joined by seniors-to-be Dennis Mikelonis (14.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg), leading scorer Nick Jones (17.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg) and three-year starter Chris McGrath (8.5 ppg, 2.7 apg).
Cunningham and his wife, Christy, a former volleyball standout at Purdue, have four children – daughters Caroline (7), Catie Joy (5) and sons Case (5) and Indiana (seven months). He will be in Helena in late May recruiting as well as in June for two weeks of the Saints’ Boys’ Basketball Camps.
By Troy Shockley, Helena IR
Mike Burns is happy at the University of San Diego. But there’s something about Carroll College, he said, that screams right place, right time.
Burns was the last of four finalists seeking to fill the men’s basketball coaching vacancy to speak on campus in a community forum on Tuesday. School officials hope to make a decision by the end of the week.
The head assistant coach for the last five seasons at the private, Catholic school, Burns has had previous success as a head coach. Before his time at USD, he led Community Colleges of Spokane to a No. 1 ranking in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges and a second place at the NWAACC tournament in the 2007-08 season. His team finished the year 30-2 and he was named the region’s coach of the year.
By Amber Kuehn, Helena IR
Academics aren’t just something Carson Cunningham preaches to his student athletes. As a scholar himself, he’s as entrenched in classroom standards as he is in success on the basketball court.
Cunningham, one of four finalists for the men’s basketball head coaching job at Carroll College, was on campus Monday for the third of four community forums with the candidates. The final question-and-answer session will be held today at 2 p.m. with Michael Burns. Steve Keller and Tim Cleary interviewed with the school last week.
Cunningham has been the varsity boys basketball coach at Andrean High School in Indiana for the past five years, but for those questioning his readiness for the jump to collegiate athletics, he has experience working with students of that age already to his credit. Cunningham — who has a doctorate in history — has taught at DePaul for the past six years, where he is currently pursuing his master’s in business administration. He has also written three books, including one titled “Underbelly Hoops: Adventures in the CBA — A.K.A The Crazy Basketball Association,” where he chronicles his experiences of playing in the professional league. His first book, “American Hoops: U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball from Berlin to Beijing,” originated as a dissertation before being published by the University of Nebraska in 2009.
By Troy Shockley, Helena IR
For more than 10 years, Tim Cleary has kept a watchful eye on Carroll College. On Tuesday, he was on campus to interview for the men’s basketball coaching position and took some time to speak with community members in the second of four open forums with the finalists.
Montana Western coach Steve Keller spoke on Monday, while the final two candidates — Dr. Carson Cunningham, the boys coach at Andrean High School in Indiana, and University of San Diego coach Michael Burns — will speak at forums at 2 p.m. next Monday and Tuesday. A decision is possible as soon as next Friday.
The head coach at Pacific University in Oregon for the past three seasons, Cleary was the top assistant at Boise State from 2002-10. It was at that time the California native fell in love with the Northwest.
By Troy Shockley, Helena IR
Steve Keller teared up at the thought of leaving his players at the University of Montana Western. But the chance at returning to the place he calls home is too great an opportunity to pass up.
One of four finalists to fill the opening as Carroll College’s men’s basketball coach, Keller spoke to and answered questions from community members on Monday in the first of four open forums with the finalists. Another forum, with Pacific University coach Tim Cleary, will take place at 2 p.m. today at Carroll.
None of the final four, however, has as intimate a knowledge of Helena and Carroll itself as does Keller. He’s spent the last six years at Western, but also served as a volunteer assistant at Carroll and three state titles while coaching at Helena High.
“I love my guys. … It’s hard leaving your players,” he said. “I don’t really want to leave them. But this is a better job. This is a great job. It’s a step up, and everything about Carroll is first class. And this is my home. I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.”
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