WHITEFISH — In only four years with the Carroll College men’s basketball program, Carlito Labarda Jr. made an impact that Saints fans had waited more than a decade for.
Labarda, who was the assistant coach to former men’s basketball coach Dr. Carson Cunningham, helped lift Carroll to new heights, returning the proud program to a national contender. The Fighting Saints qualified for the NAIA national tournament in the final two of Labarda’s seasons in Helena, advancing to consecutive quarterfinal appearances at historic Municipal Auditorium Arena in Kansas City, Mo. Carroll won only nine games in the first season of the Cunningham-Labarda era before earning 29 victories in the 2016-17 season, second-most in program history.
After compiling 79 wins, compared to 45 losses, Carroll saw its main assistant capture the attention of other men’s basketball programs around the northwest. Labarda eventually accepted the Eastern Oregon University job in June 2017, becoming the 16th men’s basketball coach in program history.
Labarda is 36-23 in two years with the Mounties, including an impressive 21-8 mark his first season – and impressing his EOU colleagues.
“He’s a great guy. Again, it all starts with his character and who he is. But you hit the nail on the head, he’s fun, he’s quirky at times, which we need as a department,” Anji Weissenfluh, the head women’s basketball coach and director of athletics at Eastern Oregon, said during June’s annual Frontier Conference meetings. “His student-athletes have enjoyed getting to know him. It’s early in his head coaching career, but he’s grinding, he’s a grinder. Being out on the road recruiting and trying to pave his path, he’s awesome to have on staff. I really enjoy working with him, and with me being the women’s basketball coach, we get to work closely together, so it’s been fun. I respect coach Carlito a lot. He’s brought a dimension to our athletic department that we didn’t have prior to him getting here, so I appreciate what he brings.”
Labarda has mentored all-Americans in each of his first two seasons – Max McCullough in 2018 and Jordan May this past season. Labarda and the Mountaineers have yet to release the 2019-20 schedule.