WKU Men’s Basketball: Stansbury adds Cunningham, Grant to staff; Hsu departs
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — WKU Hilltopper Basketball head coach Rick Stansbury announced Monday the hiring of Phil Cunningham as associate head coach and Marcus Grant as assistant coach on his staff.
“We’re excited to have both Phil and Marcus be a part of our staff,” Stansbury said. “I’ve known Phil for the majority of my life. I played for his father, and then Phil coached with me for several years at Mississippi State. He also did a remarkable job as head coach at Troy getting them to the NCAA Tournament, which isn’t an easy task there.
“Marcus played for me as a player and then coached eight years with me at Mississippi State. He was a terrific player for us and helped us get to the Sweet 16. He did a great job for me in his years as an assistant coach, and he did the same thing for Coach Cunningham at Troy. Both Marcus and Phil are terrific people, and we’re excited to have them both as part of our basketball family.”
Both coaches have longtime experience working with Stansbury.
Cunningham – a Campbellsville, Ky., native – spent the previous six seasons as the head coach at Troy University, and his 18 years as a Division I assistant before that included 12 years working with Stansbury at Mississippi State and one prior stint as a WKU assistant in 2012-13.
“I’m very thankful to Coach Stansbury for providing me with this terrific opportunity, and I’m excited about reconnecting with so many good friends on the coaching staff and in the athletic department,” Cunningham said. “WKU Basketball has meant big-time tradition and success to me since I was a young kid in Campbellsville following the playing and coaching career of our hometown hero Clem Haskins, and I’m fortunate to be a part of this storied program once again.”
Grant spent the last six seasons on Cunningham’s staff at Troy, including the last four as associate head coach. Before that, he spent eight years working for Stansbury at Mississippi State.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to join Coach Stansbury’s staff,” Grant said. “Western Kentucky is rich in basketball tradition, and I look forward to becoming a part of the university and the community.”
Cunningham, 52, led Troy to its first Sun Belt Tournament championship in 2017 and the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance, including the first in 14 years. That team completed the biggest wins turnaround in program history and racked up the most victories in a season since 2003-04.
During his tenure, Cunningham coached the No. 1 and No. 2 all-time leading scorers in Troy history in Wes Person and Jordon Varnado.
His Troy teams also won the Sun Belt Team Academic Award in two of the last three years, and all 16 players who competed as seniors earned their degree.
Before taking the reins at Troy, Cunningham was named one of the top 25 assistant coaches in the NCAA by Rivals.com and was recognized by The Hoop Scoop recruiting publication as one of the top NCAA Division I men’s basketball assistant coaches.
In his one season at WKU, the Hilltoppers won four games in four days to claim their second straight Sun Belt title, narrowly falling to No. 1 seed Kansas in the NCAA Tournament.
Cunningham spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach under Stansbury at Mississippi State from 2000-12 before joining the WKU staff. In that 13-year span, Mississippi State and WKU made 11 postseason appearances, including seven NCAA Tournament berths. All 12 of the recruiting classes he was involved with at Mississippi State were nationally recognized.
Cunningham was a part of six NCAA Tournament appearances in 11 years at Mississippi State. He worked primarily with the Bulldog guards and had a heavy hand in the program’s recruiting efforts, helping land players such as Jarvis Varnado, Jamont Gordon, Charles Rhodes, Arnett Moultrie and also Monta Ellis, who went directly to the NBA out of high school after signing with Mississippi State.
Cunningham was a part of five Southeastern Conference Western Division crowns, one overall conference championship and two conference tournament titles in his final nine seasons at Mississippi State.
Before his tenure at Mississippi State, Cunningham spent five seasons as an assistant coach under legendary head coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell at James Madison and Georgia State. He was promoted to associate head coach in his final two seasons at GSU, where he recruited back-to-back conference Player of the Year winners.
Cunningham’s 18-year stint as an NCAA Division I assistant coach was preceded by a three-year stay as head basketball coach at Sue Bennett College in London, Ky. Taking over a former junior college program making the jump to four-year competition in the NAIA, Cunningham paced Sue Bennett to 48 victories during his three seasons at the helm of the Dragons, including postseason tournament appearances during each of the school’s first two years of postseason eligibility status.
Cunningham began his coaching career in the 1990-91 season as an assistant coach on his father’s staff at Campbellsville University after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He helped lead the Tigers to the District 32 championship and an appearance in the NAIA Tournament.
He then went to Mississippi State as a graduate assistant for the 1991-92 season, where he earned a master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis in sports administration.
After graduating from Taylor County High School, Cunningham began his collegiate playing career at Kentucky Wesleyan and won a NCAA Division II National Championship in 1987. Citing a desire to play for his highly respected father, Cunningham transferred to Campbellsville College, now Campbellsville University, where he finished his career ranked among the school’s all-time leaders in career assists.
Grant, 45, has carved out a role developing post players during his time as an assistant coach.
The Macon, Ga., native oversaw the emergence of Jordon Varnado as one of the most dominant posts in the Sun Belt Conference, which coincided with Troy’s 2017 conference tournament championship and second-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
In 2017-18, Varnado and Alex Hicks ranked in the top 10 in rebounding out of all Sun Belt players.
The year before, the Trojans had the biggest wins improvement in school history, the most wins in a season since 2003-04 and the third-most Sun Belt wins of all time. Troy also had the most non-conference wins since 2002-03.
In 2014-15, Grant helped the development of forward Kevin Thomas, who stamped his name several times into Troy’s record book, including records for single-season field-goal percentage and career field-goal percentage.
Grant came to Troy after spending eight seasons on staff at Mississippi State, including the last six as an assistant coach from 2006-12 with Cunningham as a fellow assistant and Stansbury as the head coach.
Grant began his coaching career at Mississippi State in 2004 as a coordinator of operations before being promoted to assistant coach in 2006. In his eight years on staff at MSU, Grant was a part of six postseason appearances, including three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Grant was a part of six 20-win seasons in his eight years on staff at MSU, two SEC Western Division championships and one SEC Tournament championship.
He was also a standout player at Mississippi State from 1991-95, helping lead the Bulldogs to the 1995 NCAA Sweet 16 in his senior season. He was named third-team All-SEC and scored 23 points in the Bulldogs’ upset win at No. 4 Kentucky, MSU’s first ever victory at Rupp Arena.
Before starting his coaching career, Grant spent nearly a decade playing professionally in Europe, a three-time Eurobasket All-Finnish League Import Player of the Year. In his final year, Grant averaged 16.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in leading the Kouvolan Kouvot club to the 2003-04 Finnish League championship.