North Carolina is a college basketball factory. The Tar Heels, Blue Devils, Demon Deacons and Wolfpack are names synonymous with NCAA hoops lore. The Queens University of Charlotte Royals may not be a part of that list yet, but they are out to create some history of their own.
Bart Lundy is one of the winningest coaches in the history of the Royals basketball program. He was first with the team as head coach from 1998 to 2003. Those teams rose to great heights during his tenure, including the first Elite Eight in school’s history, which he shortly followed with the school’s first Final Four appearance.
Division I would eventually come calling. Lundy would go on and spend time as both a head coach and assistant coach for some successful teams. Despite being a part of some exciting times in basketball, nearly a decade later Lundy would return to his roots.
“Coming back was great,” Lundy said. “It was a lot of the same people. It was like coming home, it was my first head coaching job. I love this school, the university and the people, so it was an easy transition.”
During Lundy’s time away, he would go to High Point and become the second head coach in their Division I history. He quickly made his mark, capturing NCAA DI Rookie Coach of the Year honors in 2004 while leading the Panthers to a 19-win season after four down seasons to start off their DI tenure. Six years later, he would join on as an assistant for Marquette in one of the more historic eras of Big East basketball. The lessons he learned were invaluable.
“The Big East at that time was the best conference in the history of college basketball,” Lundy said. “It was like getting a PhD in basketball. Every night we were preparing for a Hall of Fame coach and Hall of Fame players. Those three years at Marquette at that time and at that place — I couldn’t have been at a place where I could have learned or experienced more.”
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"Working alongside Buzz Williams was undoubtedly rewarding. It wasn’t just Marquette’s on court play — play that led to back-to-back Sweet 16s — but Williams’ off the court presence as well. “Buzz is like no other guy when it comes to motivation and work ethic,” Lundy said.
After a quick stop at North Texas, Lundy came back to where it all started. The Royals were part of a new conference from the time that he left — now part of the SAC — and the once small gymnasium was upgraded to one of the premier athletic facilities in DII basketball. One thing remained the same: Lundy had some quality basketball players to coach.
Lundy would have a bit of a rebuilding project on his hands, but was able to put together consecutive winning seasons right off the bat. He finished at 14-13 in his first year back and then 17-13 last season. With 70 of the team’s 77 points per game returning, The Sporting News labeled the Royals as a possible breakthrough team to watch in 2015-2016.
“It was nice,” Lundy said of the accolades. “I got the job in July of 2013 and there were literally 8 players in the program and 5 were freshman, so it’s been a building process since I arrived back on campus. Last year we had 13 new players, and we started 1-5. It’s a tribute to their work and how they’ve come together as a team.”
They certainly have showed signs of a breakthrough thus far in 2015. The Royals sit at 11-0 on the current season, ranked No. 12 in the nation in the last NABC Poll. Most impressively, they have done it on the road away from The Levine Center.
“They have a philosophy they developed on their own. They say: ‘We ball.’" Lundy said of the teams’ mantra that was developed by the current crop of players. “No matter where we are, what gym it is, whatever the location is, they approach it the same way. I have great leadership in Rob Lewis and Sean Morgan. They make those younger guys believe that where ever we are, ‘We ball’.”
Seniors Sean Morgan and Rob Lewis — both earning pre-season First Team All-SAC honors — have led the way. Morgan is averaging 19.7 points a night, while Lewis is chipping in 19.5. But to Lundy and the Royals, it is more than that.
“They’re everything for us right now,” Lundy said. “Sean is getting his numbers in only about 22 minutes a game. Rob gets points when we really need them. Especially early in the year, he made big shot after big shot. We can talk about road warriors, and turning a program around, but you need guys that step up at the right time and make it happen, and Rob and Sean have done that through these 11 games.”
Returning a group that has gone through the rebuilding process together is also a huge advantage for the Royals. Not only have they developed a unity amongst themselves, but their talent on the court has proven to be valuable to the team’s current run. Great depth is an advantage to any team, and the Royals are no different.
“It’s a good luxury to have,” Lundy said. “What’s great about our team is even with the guys that aren’t playing as many minutes as they might if they were other places, we have a great chemistry. They pull for each other, they play for each other. It’s not aways the stars that make a good team. Sometimes its those guys that aren’t in the spotlight that are just as important. We’re really happy with where are program is in far of our character and our depth.”
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So, here they are. Queens University of Charlotte, heading into the holiday break at 11-0 and in the national top 15. A coach who took the program to heights they had never reached over a decade ago is getting a second chance to do it all over again. Lundy is not only grateful, but very appreciative of an opportunity he knows not every coach gets.
“I have come full circle in coaching,” Lundy said. “The winning is important, but how we get there is just as important. Having the right guys, knowing that they can be around my kids, and that in ten years I’m going to have relationships with them and their families — that’s as important as what any expectations are.
“How many chances do you have in today’s landscape in college basketball? You can build a program where you have a part of the past, now the present, and hopefully the future. Queens is a place that gives me a rare opportunity to do that.”
In a few days the Royals will be back on the court, readying themselves for their 2016 opener at home against Coker College. Where does Lundy see this exciting start heading for his team?
“We’re taking it day by day. I hope they come back healthy and don’t play any pick up over their seven days off,” Lundy said with a laugh. “11-0 is great, but it’s always fragile. We’ll see what the next 17 games hold for us.”