Gorches: Carson Cunningham, Marvin Rea both learned from Gene Keady
By Steve T. Gorches 648-3141 or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @SteveTGorches March 15, 2013 8:38PM
Andrean coach Carson Cunningham cuts a section of the net after defeating Plymouth for the regional championship on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Plymouth. | Mark Smith~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 17, 2013 6:08AM
It’s fitting that Bowman Academy and Andrean are playing in the same semistate Saturday at Huntington North High School.
Not because the schools are in neighboring communities or because they faced each other earlier this season — Andrean won the home game 73-68 on Dec. 1.
It’s about the coaches, where they came from and how much their coaching styles emulate their mentor — the same coaching mentor from the same college.
Bowman coach Marvin Rea graduated from Purdue University in 1991, while Andrean coach Carson Cunningham finished his Purdue basketball career in 2000. He graduated from the school in 2001 with a Masters degree, then subsequently earned a PhD three years later.
They were on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to their playing days, and it’s continued into their high school coaching.
Cunningham, an Andrean graduate, transferred to Purdue from Oregon State after he was one of the best freshmen in the country, averaging more than 14 points per game. He averaged 11 ppg in 1999-2000 to help lead the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. Now he’s a professor at DePaul University.
Rea was a walk-on at Purdue who only played in a handful of games after graduating from Roosevelt and earning the IHSAA mental attitude award as a senior. Now he’s one of the very few coaches in the region in any sport who also serves as his school’s athletic director.
But both carried over the same lessons from longtime Purdue coach Gene Keady into their own successful coaching careers.
It starts with practice.
“(Keady) really got after it in practice,” Rea said. “There was a lot of intensity, but you didn’t take anything he said in practice personally.”
Cunningham has gone as far as copy his Purdue practice regimen.
“We structure practices like Purdue — they’re very competitive,” he said. “Coach Keady was a tough son of a gun.”
Tough practice leads to tough teams on the court, and it’s led directly to improvement on the court. Specifically, Andrean’s defense gave up its fewest points per game (49.6) in the last “25 to 30 years” according to Cunningham. In fact, his defense has improved by about three points per game each of the last two years.
Both Rea and Cunningham also learned to delegate duties within the program. Each are considered the CEO of his basketball program with assistants having more responsibilities than those on other teams.
Take that 59ers’ defense, for example.
“A big part of the defense is my assistant, Scott Hicko,” Cunningham said. “I call him the defense whisperer. He’s got a very gentle, but persuasive, way of dealing with people and the kids have responded to him well.”
Cunningham gives credit to his offense’s success to his other assistant, Greg Bosak.
Yes, that name is familiar to Northwest Indiana residents as the name on local car dealerships. So, of course, Cunningham used an analogy fitting Bosak’s profession.
“That guy could sell you a car without an engine,” Cunningham joked before getting a plug in for Bosak. “Not that he would because he sells quality cars.”
The proof that the system works for the 59ers is in the results. They’re the only team left in the tournament that has beaten a team still alive in each of the other class semistates — Lafayette Central Catholic in 1A (71-62 on Jan. 12), Bowman in 2A and Merrillville in 4A (75-74 in overtime on Dec. 8).
Rea also counts a lot on his assistants — James Scott, Ronney Robinson, Derrick Robinson and Kenya Stines. It’s similar to the staff Keady had when Rea “didn’t get a lot of playing time, but listened” to his coaches.
“Our staff is like a team, which is just like Keady’s staff,” Rea said. “We know how to manage and work together.”
Keady had an all-star staff during Rea’s time there. Bowman’s coach got to learn under current college head coaches Bruce Weber (Kansas State after being at Illinois), Steve Lavin (St. John’s) and Kevin Stallings (Vanderbilt).
“It was so great playing for those coaches and learning from them,” Rea said.
Rea also learned about work ethic, considering his walk-on status.
“I wasn’t recruited, so I can tell the kids what it’s like to work hard to make a team,” he said. “Keady looked at the whole picture — character and doing the right things on and off the court.”
That’s the mantra of both teams led by former Purdue players who learned under one of the top coaches of his era. It would be fitting if Rea and Cunningham got to coach at the same location one more week at the state finals.