It’s a homecoming of sorts for Phil Cunningham.
Cunningham joined Ray Harper’s Western Kentucky men’s basketball staff Tuesday, rejoining his former college coach 90 miles from Cunningham’s hometown.
“For me, it’s just an opportunity to be where there’s a lot of tradition from a basketball standpoint,” he said. “I’ve been in the South at Mississippi State for the past 12 years and we had things going in basketball there, but it’s still the SEC and if it’s not Kentucky and, maybe, Vanderbilt, it’s all about football first. Here, I know basketball has always been a sport with tremendous tradition and just a fan base that really cares. That’s what I’m excited about.”
Cunningham played at Kentucky Wesleyan in 1987 while Harper was an assistant coach. During his prep career at Taylor County High School in Campbellsville, Cunningham was an all-state honorable mention in addition to playing shortstop on the baseball team.
Cunningham left Mississippi State after Rick Stansbury retired following this past season.
“I’ve kept up with (Harper) all through the years, from Kentucky Wesleyan to Oklahoma City to when he became an assistant here at Western Kentucky,” Cunningham said. “We were always two coaching friends who talked off and on throughout the season and see each other recruiting and talk all the time. It just sort of all came about toward the end of the season, closer toward the Final Four.”
At MSU, Cunningham had primary responsibilities in recruiting and player development with the Bulldogs’ guards, scouting and on-floor coaching duties.
Cunningham and Harper haven’t gone over specific coaching duties, Cunningham said, and he hasn’t had a good chance to break down the current group of Hilltoppers – there were still unpacked boxes on Cunningham’s desk at E.A. Diddle Arena – but he knows recruiting is always first.
“It seemed like some high-character guys that handle themselves real well in some simple introductions,” he said after meeting the team. “Looking forward to getting back to an area where basketball is at the forefront of that fan base – with their knowledge and their interest and desires for success.”