SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The 2017-18 season was one the University of the Incarnate Word men's basketball team would rather forget. The Cardinals finished with a program-worst 7-21 record and secured back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in program history. After 11 years with head coach Kevin Burmeister at the helm, it was time for a change.
Enter Dr. Carson Cunningham.
After turning a two-win team at Carroll College in Montana into a perennial NAIA contender, Cunningham is now tasked with accomplishing the same feat at the Division I level with UIW. The biggest challenge is the Cardinals' lack of experience. Twelve of the 15 players on the roster are underclassmen -- four sophomores and eight freshmen -- but Cunningham relishes the opportunity to develop young talent.
"For me, it's fun to see the potential and give them some tricks of the trade as they develop," Cunningham said. "We are exceptionally young, and especially with all of our injuries, we're even younger. Right now, we have six guys out with injuries, and that's pretty rare. We're just going to battle through that. I definitely see some green shoots, as the economists like to say. We'll put some Miracle-Gro on that, add some sun and some water and see what happens."
"He really breaks everything down for us," explained sophomore forward Christian Peevy. "He simplifies things and makes them easier to understand. He's got us always bringing energy every time we step on the floor."
Early results are plainly seen on the court: The Cardinals have already notched five wins this season, four by double-digit margins. Peevy and freshman guard Morgan Taylor have paced the team's offense, averaging 14 and 12.4 points per game, respectively. With upperclassmen leadership at a premium, it's been up to the entire team to raise their level of play.
"I don't think there's any one leader on this team," Peevy explained. "Everybody pushes each other to be the best they can be. If I'm messing up in practice, I expect one of the freshmen to say, 'Hey, you've got to pick it up.' I think we're starting to work as a team. We're going harder in practice, focusing on the small details. The little things always help."