“To the National Championship,” Zac Cuthbertson did not break eye contact when asked how far he thought the 2018-2019 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers could go in the basketball season. No hint of emotion or doubt, he believed what he was saying.
Cuthbertson is leading the Chanticleers with a tremendous season, averaging 19.2 points per game while shooting 51% in his 32.3 minutes per game.
“He is an all-around forward,” Chanticleer coach Cliff Ellis said about Cuthbertson’s on-court skill. “He can score inside, he can rebound, but he can step out and stretch you…without question he has been the leader of our team.”
Zac Cuthbertson’s journey to his place on this Coastal Carolina University team was not one of glamor and Division I offers galore at age 16, rather he had to fight for every opportunity he got on the court, and be prepared to take advantage.
He attended Lincoln College as a freshman and Mineral Area College as a sophomore where he was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association Third Team All-American.
One of Cuthbertson’s teammates, senior Guard Ajay Sanders, also took the Junior College route to Coastal Carolina. Sanders provided a glimpse of what himself and Zac had to go through to get where they are today.
“Coming from JUCO (Junior College), it’s not a structured… but here, you got film, scouting reports…it’s more structure coming to a Division I where JUCO you are kind of by yourself,” Sanders said.
Sanders perspective on the grind that Junior College takes on a young player was mirrored by Cuthbertson’s description.
“A lot of people go JUCO, and some people don’t make it out,” said Cuthbertson. “Sometimes, you want to quit but you look yourself in the mirror and see who you are doing it for, and you keep pushing until you make it to the Division I level. My family [is what drives me]. That is my only motivation…not even in just basketball itself, in life, period. Before I make decisions, I look at the consequences and if it is going to affect me or my family.”
Cuthbertson’s family resides in New Bern, North Carolina, a town that was utterly ravaged by Hurricane Florence last fall. Luckily, none of his family was affected, but he did have friends who were. Ajay Sanders, who grew up 40 minutes from Cuthbertson, said that basketball provided an outlet for Cuthbertson while his hometown struggled.
“I think basketball has been an outlet for him,” said Sanders. “With the hurricane, it did affect his city and he saw that, so he has been giving everything he has this season.”
While it is impossible to calculate exactly how much of a motivator the effect of Hurricane Florence on New Bern has been for Cuthbertson, it has certainly been a factor, and the whole team is aware.
How can one better understand Zac Cuthbertson? He is quiet both on and off the court, rarely showing visible emotion while he plays or speaks. If you were to look at him halfway through a game, you would not be able to tell whether he had scored 45 or 0 up to that point. If you want to know more about the reserved Cuthbertson beyond the court, look no further than his family.
“He comes from a large family, a loving family, and that is exemplified by how he carries himself,” Coach Ellis said of Cuthbertson after his team’s victory over Appalachian State.
Ajay Sanders helped describe just how much family has motivated Cuthbertson over the years.
“He sees basketball as a way to change his family’s life…he wants to make their life better in the end,” he said.
Every day, Cuthbertson wakes up to a phone call from his brother. It gets him prepared for the day and keeps him grounded, ready to do whatever he needs to improve both on and off the court.
With his family behind him, Zac Cuthbertson has led the Chanticleers in his own, quiet way. His production speaks for itself and who knows, maybe when March rolls around we will see a Cuthbertson-led Chanticleers team right where he predicted they would be…in the National Championship.