Kenny Carr Carried On Thompson's Scoring Legacy
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in "Legends of NC State Basketball," by GoPack.com managing editor Tim Peeler (SportsPublishing LLC, © 2004). It is reprinted here with permission.
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. – How could Kenny Carr not want to be part of this? Carr was sitting in Reynolds Coliseum that weekend in March, 1974, when the Wolfpack hosted the Eastern Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. Fresh off the most memorable game in ACC Tournament history, the Wolfpack played Providence and Pittsburgh in the first two rounds of the tournament, and Carr, a senior at DeMatha High School, was visiting to see if he might want to make Raleigh his college basketball home.
He watched the Wolfpack pummel Providence in that first game, then two days later sat in horror with the rest of the 12,400 people at Reynolds Coliseum when David Thompson tripped over Phil Spence's shoulder, fell to the ground and lay lifeless on the floor.
But when Thompson came back from the hospital in the second half, the building erupted in its loudest celebration ever, and Carr knew he wanted to play at N.C. State.
"I got caught up in the hoopla,'' he says.
As a kid, Carr was a football player. That's what he did growing up in Washington, D.C., and it might have been a good sport for the physical, hard-working athlete to pursue, with his eventual size and determination. But one day, all the kids on the playground stopped playing football, and walked over to some nearby basketball courts. It was a game that the 14-year-old Kenny had never really tried.
He was hooked in seconds.
"It was kind of by accident, to be honest, but I just fell in love with basketball,'' he says. "Plus, back in those days, it was kind of tough to find football shoes that would fit me, to tell the truth. That was one of the reasons I didn't want to play.''
Nowadays, Carr doesn't have any trouble finding shoes to fit, since he lives in Oregon, right in the shadow of the world's largest athletic shoe company. But then, basketball was a way to make his size-14 feet more comfortable. Plus, he got to play most of his games indoors.
Carr, a 6-8 forward, spent three years scoring and rebounding for Wolfpack coach Norm Sloan in the days immediately following the 1974 NCAA Championship. Though the two-time All-America never got to play in the NCAA Tournament, he did spend one year playing with David Thompson, then inherited Thompson's crown as a multiple ACC scoring leader.
Thompson led the league three consecutive years from 1973-75, and Carr won the league scoring titles in 1976 and '77, averaging 26.6 and 21.0 points per game, respectively. That gave N.C. State five unbroken years with the league's top scorer, a stretch that has never been equaled in more than a half century of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But Carr, who scored at least 30 points nine times in his college career, wasn't just a scoring machine. Even though he played in just 86 games, he is still ranked among the best rebounders in school history.
"Kenny was a great, great player,'' said long-time N.C. State sports information director Frank Weedon. "But he was so stoic and never showed any emotions, and I think people forget about him. He may have been the second greatest player to ever play here, behind David.''
Carr ended up at N.C. State because of assistant coach Eddie Biedenbach's persistence in pursuing DeMatha High School star Adrian Dantley, who eventually ended up at Notre Dame. One day during Dantley's senior season, Biedenbach was watching the team practice, when DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten mentioned that he might want to watch someone else on the court.
"You see Kenny Carr right there,'' Wootten told Biedenbach. "You will be working just as hard for him as you are for Adrian Dantley right now.''
That gave Biedenbach a headstart in wooing Carr, who flew a bit under the radar as a junior because of a knee injury he suffered the year before. He favored it for an entire year, Biedenbach says, so other recruiters didn't take much notice.
"Then, his senior year, he just exploded,'' Biedenbach says. "I had a heads up on everybody because of recruiting Dantley and sitting there with Morgan. I think they gave me an honorary degree for the number of hours I spent up there for two years.
"Kenny Carr ended up being a truly great college player. He was one of the toughest, strongest forwards ever. I'm not sure people really ever appreciated him, and what he accomplished.''
Carr holds several distinctions in the decorated annals of Wolfpack basketball: He forged the path for other Morgan Wootten-coached DeMatha High School players to find N.C. State, which led to Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg (among many others) playing for the Wolfpack; he and Tommy Burleson are the only two N.C. State players to ever play for the U.S. Olympic team (Tom Gugliotta was selected for the 2000 team, but was hurt and never played); Carr in fact is the only Wolfpack player to ever win Olympic gold; and Carr is the first N.C. State basketball player to leave early for the NBA, an opportunity that Thompson passed up in 1974.
Carr, whose honored jersey hangs from the rafters of the RBC Center, will always be linked to Thompson because of their five-year scoring streak, and because Carr was the school's first superstar after Thompson, a rather unenviable position primarily because Carr was such a different kind of player: a big, strong, aggressive forward who liked to step outside and take jump shots.
"To me, Kenny was one of those players that was ahead of his time,'' said former North Carolina rival and Olympic teammate Phil Ford. "Now, it's not uncommon to see someone with Kenny's size and strength with the ability to play on the perimeter and knock in jump shots or put the ball on the deck and drive to the basket. When we were coming along, guys with Kenny's strength and size always played inside. He was just a little before his time.''
Ford remembers seeing the awe in the eyes of the Spanish national team during an exhibition game before the Olympics in Montreal, as they watched Carr take over the scrimmage with the authority of a CEO, which is in fact what Carr became.
The Olympic experience was perhaps the biggest moment of Carr's career. After the 1972 team lost in the controversial game to the Russians, the 1976 team was determined to get the gold medal back, and North Carolina coach Dean Smith was given the task of doing it. He held tryouts on N.C. State's campus, and Carr was one of the 15 finalists.
Smith required that all his players could run a mile under a certain time, and Carr missed that time badly on his first attempt. Had Indiana's Quinn Buckner not helped pace Carr on his second attempt, he may not have been one of the team's 12 members, joining his high school teammate Adrian Dantley of Notre Dame, plus Buckner, Ford, Indiana's Scott May and North Carolina's Mitch Kupchak, Tommy LaGarde and Walter Davis.
"That was not my forte, running a mile,'' Carr says, laughing. "It was a mental thing. I just hated it.''
But he loved the Olympic experience, not so much the Games in Montreal, where the Americans won all of its games to win back the gold medal. Carr averaged 6.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in six games. It was more the tryouts, the practices and the exhibition tour around the country that were even more fun.
"I just enjoyed throwing the ball up with some of the best players in the world,'' Carr says. "The best competition we had was in training camp. I think the best time of the whole thing was when we were in Chapel Hill and we would just get up and play every day. That is the most fun I have ever had.''
Besides, the accommodations in Montreal weren't all that great. The twelve players on the team shared a single two-bedroom, one-bath condominium in the Olympic Village, a far cry from the luxurious digs that the modern day Dream Team players require. Carr believes that 1976 team should be remembered
"As far as I am concerned, our team won the last legitimate gold medal there was for the United States,'' Carr said. "In 1980, we boycotted Russia. In 1984, they boycotted us. In 1988, we lost it (to Yugoslavia). And in 1992, we started the Dream Team.''
Carr came back from the Olympics with a pretty good idea that he would only spend one more year in college, an idea he got from former Maryland player Brad Davis.
"I just thought my body and my game was ready to move on,'' Carr says. "I was a very physical player and I would get a lot of fouls. I was a little bigger and more aggressive than most people I played against. I got frustrated, and I figured it was time to move on.''
He was the sixth overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft, going to the Los Angeles Lakers. His career got off to a rocky start, after he broke his right foot in his rookie season and his left foot in his second season. But he still played for 10 years with four different franchises (Los Angeles, Cleveland, Portland and Detroit), retiring in 1987 after 674 games, 7,713 points and 4,999 rebounds.
He eventually settled down in Portland, where he stumbled on another unexpected career path. In 1982, he bought a 50-year old, 6,000-square foot home that needed extensive renovation. The final bill came out to be $250,000.
"Gosh,'' he thought, "there has got to be some profit in this.''
Carr became a general contractor, a bit of a departure from the education degree he earned from N.C. State. Even though Carr left school early, he returned the summer after his junior year for two summer school sessions, then took the final class he needed to graduate during his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers.
After weathering a couple of Northwest economic slowdowns, Carr got into specialty contracting, fabricating and erecting structural steel for commercial and industrial projects. In 2003, Carr Construction Co. had about 120 employees and did $23 million in business in the Portland area.
Carr, who celebrated his 25th anniversary with wife Adrianna in 2004, had always intended to return to his hometown of Washington, D.C., but the success of his business and the arrival of his three kids – Cameron, Devon and Alyx – rooted him in the Northwest.
"My kids liked being here, and we were settled,'' Carr says. "Once that happens, you don't necessarily live your life for yourself anymore. You make compromises.''
Carr had made plenty of compromises earlier in his life, switching from football to basketball, leaving school for his professional career, getting into an unlikely post-basketball profession.
But, as his jersey hangs in the rafters of the RBC Center, Carr will always be remembered as the Wolfpack star that blossomed immediately after Thompson.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.