Cemtral Baptist College men's basketball team is ranked 22nd in the NAIA poll, the first time the Mustangs have ever been ranked as an NAIA  team.

In his first season as CBC coach Chris Wright, that's a major mark off the checklist.

"It's huge for us because it has never happened here before," Wright said. "It validates what we are doing and the direction we are moving. It's where we hope to be every year. Hopefully, we have just scratched the surface."

When he took the job after serving as an assistant at Angelo State, Wright was aware of the challenges, which begins with limited resources at the small private school.

"Friends wondered by I took the job because they thought where we are at and the resources we have to work with, you couldn't win here," he said. "It has been challenging. I've had to be creative bit our scholarship system allows us to go out and get guys that we need to win at a high level.

"We have to recruit Division I players who are not playing Division I for whatever reason and there are a lot of them. Having a program that achieves national prominence helps that. And I have connections with professional leagues overseas and in the D-League, so that can help."

He has 74 players in his program but don't get two awed by that. CBC has two JV teams on limited aid because they don't play in competition. CBC is allowed 11 scholarship equivalences and it currently uses only half of that on the varsity level. Wright's two assistants (Clint Galyean, who came with him from Angelo State) and David Meador (who was previously a manager at North Texas) are parttime.

"They are parttime pay with fulltime hours," he said. "They have spent hundreds of hours working with our players and making the program what it is. We are an enrollment-driven school and we do what we can to help make that work. But you have to be creative."

For chemistry purposes, he is careful about recruiting when most of his players wished they were playing on a higher level.

"We work on culture every single day," he said. "I tell them going in what they are looking at and I'm not the easiest coach to play for. There are times I try to scare them off. They guys have to learn how to be unselfish. But this is my 15th year of coaching and this is the most unselfish team I have ever been around. We have good kids."

The Mustangs are 18-5 and have won 12 in a row, working themselves into second place in the American Midwest Conference

"We started 6-1 and then played four games in eight days," he said. "We lost the first game by one point, then lost three in a row by two point. Creating a really good culture at the start sustained us."

At mid-term, Purcell Washington and Da'Jon Steeter, who he describes as possibly the two best players in the conference became eligible and senior Victor Dukes became a more mature player.

"The kids learned what it means to work hard," he said.

Saturday, the Mustangs have a  rematch at home with league-leading Columbia College, which has won the American Midwest Conference six of the last seven years. "We didn't have our two best players and they beat us two up there," Wright said.

The goal now is to reach ther 32-team NAIA tournament in Kansas City. The conference champion gets an automatic berth as well as the conference tournament winner. That tourney is played at home sites of the highest seeds. There are automatic bids, primarily to teams that do not get automatic berths but are in the top 25.

"If we an finish at the top of our league or in the top 25, there is a good chance when we get to Kansas City," he said.

That means respect.

"I don't think in our league, our school gets much respect," he said. "Because of how we are resourced and funded, they don't think you can possibly win here. I use that as motivation. I want our players to play with a chip on our shoulder.

"Our goal is to be a top NAIA program year in and year out."

So, baby steps are nice.

Sports editor David McCollum can be reached at david.mccollum@thecabin.net. Follow him on Twitter @dmaclcd