Once ignored, Sixers' Carney is now in the spotlight
By Joe Juliano Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer
College recruiters weren't exactly banging down the door at the Indianapolis home of Rodney Carney after he completed a sparkling senior season at the city's Northwest High School. Heck, they weren't knocking at all.
But that changed when Memphis head coach John Calipari was informed that Qyntel Woods, a prospective junior-college transfer, had elected to jump directly to the NBA. Woods' decision left a scholarship open, which prompted Calipari's assistant, Tony Barbee, to act on a tip and scout Carney.
Barbee, a former Indianapolis public high school star, liked what he saw and relayed his report to Calipari.
"We brought him down, and he looked pretty good," Calipari said by phone from Memphis yesterday, the day after the 76ers selected Carney in the first round of the NBA draft. "Then I spoke to him and I thought, 'Oh, my gosh, he's not a bad kid.' He had the athleticism. He needed to improve his skills. But I told everybody, 'You're not going to believe this kid.' "
This week, the 6-foot-7 Carney was on the minds of a number of NBA executives impressed by his speed, leaping ability, quickness, defensive work and shooting. The once nearly forgotten high school player ended his draft odyssey by shaking commissioner David Stern's hand on the stage at Madison Square Garden after his name was called.
That's quite a distance he's traveled over his last four years. Which raises the question: How could a guy with this kind of potential have been overlooked?
Carney did not participate in AAU basketball, which left him a mystery to many college recruiters. He sat out on the recommendation of his high school coach, Bobby Wilkerson, who played seven NBA seasons and was a member of the 1976 Indiana team that won the NCAA championship at the Spectrum.
"It was a lot of pressure," Carney said yesterday after a news conference at the Wachovia Center. "The star players were playing on certain teams that they wanted me to be on. But I stuck by my high school coach. He played in the NBA and he was a college star, so I figured he knew best."
After declining an invitation to walk on at Purdue, Carney chose Memphis over Oklahoma and enjoyed a successful career with the Tigers. He ended his career third all-time in scoring (1,901 points) and first in three-point baskets (287). He averaged 17.2 points last season and established a school season record for three-pointers (102) in helping Memphis go 33-4, the best record in its history.
"Because I didn't play AAU," Carney said, "I'm more of a team player. I'd rather pass first, and that's what I was doing at Memphis. If you ask my teammates about me, they all would say, 'He's a great teammate and would do anything for us.' I'm all about the team."
Calipari said there is a lot more to Carney than mere numbers.
"He's one of those good kids that you want to be around, that you want to coach," the former Sixers assistant coach said. "This kid is really special."
Carney comes by his athletic talents naturally. His mother, DeAndra Ware, was a world-class sprinter and had a chance to make the 1980 U.S. Olympic team before the boycott ended her dream. His father, Ronald Hollins, played football at Tennessee State.
Carney said his mother "kind of made me" get into track in the fourth grade, and he was rather good at it. But after his sophomore year of high school, he said, "I hit a growth spurt and tore a muscle in my hip because I was getting tall and it took me a while to gain enough speed."
Still, he won the state high school championship in the high jump as a senior and finished fourth in the 400 meters. He now has a vertical leap of 40 inches but points out "that's only on three steps. I can get a lot higher than that if I have more steps."
It's that athleticism that excites Calipari as he thinks about his player performing for the fans of Philadelphia.
"He can dunk with his armpit," the Memphis coach said. "Some of the stuff he can do in transition will bring back Dr. J memories. He's an unbelievably gifted athlete and he's going to make shots."
If Carney can do all that, there's no way he will be ignored.
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org.