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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carney shines with Sixers in return to Memphis, shares thoughts on Tigers

The Daily Helmsman
By: Joseph Russell

Issue date: 4/13/10 Section: Sports

After a nagging toe injury kept him on the bench for the previous five games, Philadelphia 76ers guard Rodney Carney refused to sit out Saturday's contest.

The 6-foot-7 swingman was back in the place where he spent four years of his life, suiting up for The University of Memphis during the program's latest ascension to prominence.

In a game that the Grizzlies needed to win in order to secure an even record this season, Carney helped spoil the home team's plans. The Sixers won, 120-101, and the Indianapolis, Ind., native came off the bench to score 11 points, making four of his six shots and two from three-point range in 20 minutes, despite the toe injury.

"It felt good before the game," he said. "As the game progressed, I knew it'd stiffen up. By the fourth quarter, it was on fire. It was hurting bad. This is my first game back playing on it."

Carney said he was glad to be back in FedExForum, especially with a win, but was disappointed with the overall outcome of the 2009-'10 season.

"We had a lot of times when we'd go on five-game losing streaks and stuff," he said. "Ultimately, we can do much better. Personally, I think I can do a lot more to help the team. The playing time has been up and down, but that comes with the profession."

Although blessed with freakish athleticism and the ability to knock down 3-pointers with ease, playing time is one thing Carney has had trouble finding at the professional ranks.

Drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 16th pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, Carney found himself quickly shipped to Philadelphia before the night was over. As a rookie, he averaged just a little over three points per game while playing behind then-Sixers star Allen Iverson. Once Iverson departed, Carney gained more time on the floor and increased his scoring to just over nine points per contest.

In his second season with the Sixers, Carney was relegated back to the bench. Although he played in 70 games, he started just six and averaged fewer than 15 minutes per contest.

With Andre Igoudala becoming a superstar in the league, Carney found himself on the outside looking in.

After the '07-'08 season, Philadelphia traded him and Calvin Booth, along with a future first-round draft pick, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a future conditional second-round pick and cash considerations.

It was there that Carney began to flourish.

"When I got traded, it solidified me," he said. "When I got to Minnesota, Kevin McHale gave me a lot of playing time. It really got my confidence up and my experience up. It was all thanks to him, in my opinion."

In the grand scheme of things, an increase to 18 minutes per game probably doesn't seem like a big deal. But for Carney, it meant averaging the highest points of his career at 7.2 per contest. He also shot a career-high 35 percent from three-point range, but perhaps the biggest change was the confidence he got from Minnesota's front office.

He didn't score a lot, but he was definitely needed. One of the first off the bench, Carney proved himself capable to guard some of the league's top players night in and night out.

After his rookie contract expired, Carney found himself back in Philadelphia. Now that his playing time is more consistent, Carney has turned his attention to the next step - postseason.

"Now I'm on this team, and I'm contributing, so that's good, but it's not good when we don't make the playoffs," he said. "We can be pretty good next year; we just have to tweak some things here and there. We have the talent in place; we just need some structure."

The Sixers are just 27-53 on the season and will likely finish 23 games out of first place. But with most of the team's core coming back, combined with their high draft pick, Carney said he's optimistic about the squad's future.

"I don't know what we're going to do in the draft," he said. "It just needs to be a group effort. We have to fix some things, and we'll be back on the playoff track."

Even though he admitted to losing some focus on the Tigers while dealing with his own career, Carney said he still keeps an eye on The U of M.

"I kind of lost track this year because I was focusing on what I was doing with my team," he said. "But we're going to bring it back to dominance this upcoming year. We've got a great recruiting class coming in. I think we're going to bring Memphis back to prominence. Even though Cal left, we can still sustain what we're doing here."

While some U of M fans were unsure about where the allegiances of former players fell when Calipari left, Carney's support of the program was evident in just a few words.

"I haven't talked to (Josh Pastner) yet, but he actually sent me some Memphis gear," Carney said. "I needed it bad, so he sent me some. I didn't know who to call because I don't know any of the coaches there. He actually reached his hand out to me first, and that says a lot about the kind of guy he is."

As for what he'll do at the end of the year, Carney said he wouldn't be surprised to find himself back in the Bluff City, at least for a little while.

"When the season's over, I'm going to go chill with (Pastner), talk with him a little bit and just show my support for The University," he said. "Whatever happens happens. I'm sure we're going to do pretty good."

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