HELENA -- On April 18, 2018, Kurt Paulson began his first day as the Carroll College men's basketball coach, and since then the Fighting Saints have a 73-25 record, have advanced to the NAIA National Tournament the last three years and have shared in a Frontier Conference regular-season championship.
In his first year at the helm of the Fighting Saints, Paulson led them to a National Championship appearance where they ended their season with a runner-up finish to the top-seeded Georgetown Tigers. Paulson said he came into a great situation following Carson Cunningham, but the last three years have been a blur.
"I came into a great situation. And then it's just been kind of a three-year whirlwind, to be honest, just the first few years of a coaching job are a lot of work," said Paulson.
Prior to and during Paulson's tenure, international players have been a staple on the Fighting Saints roster. Notably this past year, Jovan Sljivancanin, Murat Guzelocak, and Gui Pedra, and says they bring a lot to the program.
"The international kids bring some size. That's kind of the main reason. The three kids we have internationally, they're great kids, they're worldly, and they're smart. They're ambitious, otherwise, they wouldn't have come over and, and kind of taken that leap of faith," said Paulson. "They're great fits for our program and they bring some size and they're all very skilled as well."
In year two, the Fighting Saints wrapped up a 24-9 campaign and were slated to reconvene with the NAIA's top men's basketball teams in Kansas City for the NAIA National Tournament, but the COVID-19 pandemic quickly scattered those plans like a chair sitting next to Bobby Knight.
"That was just disappointing, basically, because we didn't get that these young kids that experience of getting there," said Paulson.
The following year, the tumult got to Carroll College early. With little time to prepare, and a young roster to boot, the Fighting Saints opened the season at 5-5, before settling into a 15-3 finish on the year, good enough for a third straight national tournament appearance. After routing Arizona Christian and Texas Wesleyan in the divisional round, the Saints were on a plane to Kansas City and when the plane touched down, Paulson said it was like a bubble burst.
"The kids were so happy. And we were playing our best basketball at that point in the year I feel like," said Paulson. "It was a great experience for us. And then building off of that, I feel like we have some good recruits coming in to add some pieces to the puzzle."
As Paulson enters his fourth season as the Fighting Saints head coach, he's excited. Excited about the prospect of playing without pandemic protocols and with a roster that has more than a short handful of upperclassmen.
"We finally have some upperclassmen, and we haven't really had that since my first year," said Paulson "They've got a ton of experience. So, you know, it's a little scary there in the middle when you're young, but the advantage was these kids played tons of games, got tons of quality wins, and then moving into my fourth year here, we like our leadership. And we like our experience coming back."