By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
CANTON, Mo. -- There will be no gold medal awaiting the Culver-Stockton men's basketball team at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.
Nevertheless, the Wildcats are fashioning themselves as NAIA's version of the "Redeem Team," a moniker originally given to the 2008 U.S. men's basketball team.
Much like the 2008 Americans, who atoned for a third-place finish in the 2004 Olympics by winning gold, the Wildcats are on a mission to atone for the ill fortunes of past C-SC squads.
"We just want to be sort of like a Redeem Team and redeem the years past and just make this a change," C-SC senior guard Marshawn Norris said. "It's all about change."
With winning a gold medal not an option for this Redeem Team, Norris said the Wildcats' goal is to win their first Heart of America Athletic Conference title since 1991, when C-SC shared its only conference championship in program history with William Jewell.
So far, C-SC appears capable of achieving that goal.
The Wildcats are 7-2 overall -- and 2-0 in league play -- entering their 7:30 p.m. Thursday non-conference game against Hannibal-LaGrange University (2-7) at Charles Field House in Canton, Mo.
That marks the best start for C-SC since the 2001-02 season, when the Wildcats won their first nine games in en route to a 17-15 campaign. That was also the last winning season for the program.
Before this year, C-SC was a combined 18-99 the past four seasons.
"Everybody is here for one reason, and that's just to try to get Culver back to a winning program," senior guard Austin Keaton said.
A contingent of transfers in their first year with the program is sparking the turnaround.
Norris, a transfer from Quincy University, and junior forward James Johnson are tied for the team lead in scoring at 16.8 points per game.
In fact, C-SC's top seven scorers are all transfer players in their first year playing for the Wildcats.
"We came together for one common goal: We're here to win, to win every game," said Johnson, one of three transfers from Jackson (Mich.) Community College.
Keaton said C-SC's up-tempo offense and four-out, one-in half-court system have helped the Wildcats find success quickly.
"You would think it would take a little more time for us to gel into one, but with the offense coach (Jack) Schrader allows us to run, it just lets us play basketball, which we all know how to do," Keaton said. "We've been doing that since we were little. It's just simple things like passing and basket cuts and setting a screen for somebody. It's just like we're playing in open gym, which has helped us form our chemistry quicker, because we're just playing basketball."
Keaton is supplying 11.2 points per game and is one of four Wildcats averaging in double figures for scoring. Each member of that quartet, which also includes junior forward Alen Hadzimahovic, has led C-SC in scoring in at least one game this season. Six Wildcats have reached double figures in scoring at some point in the year.
C-SC is averaging 83.4 points per game, a figure that ranked 18th in NAIA's Division I as of Monday.
"We have so much firepower," Norris said.
The Wildcats' 103 made 3-pointers ranked third in the nation on Monday.
C-SC is averaging 31.2 3-point attempts per game and shooting 36.7 percent from beyond the arc.
"We have guys who can catch and shoot, and pretty much everybody who can catch and shoot can also get to the basket," Schrader said. "So it's just a matchup nightmare. What are you going to do? You have to pick your poison, and we have enough guys that can do damage."
Schrader is in his second season at C-SC after coaching Division II Truman State (Mo.) for 16 years.
During Schrader's Truman tenure, his teams only once averaged more than 20.5 3-point attempts per game for a season. That came in 2001-02, when Truman averaged 28.3 attempts per game from beyond the arc.
Yet Schrader noted he's using the same offensive system this year as he did during his final couple years at Truman.
He added that this system is a good fit for his players.
"I don't think there is any set style that you coach to," Schrader said. "You coach to the strengths of the players. Offensively, (outside shooting) is one of our strengths."
The Wildcats have embraced the system.
"Pretty much everybody on the team can really shoot," Johnson said. "If it's a wide-open shot, don't doubt yourself. Just let it go. That's basically what our motto is."
That, plus earning redemption.
"That's really a big deal for us," Norris said.