UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Tony Carr came to Penn State with visions of helping take a basketball team back to the NCAA Tournament. And he nearly did it.
While Penn State basketball couldn’t — and wouldn’t — be a one-man show, it was still an undertaking that scared off many recruits of Carr’s pedigree, a risk that the leader of the Roman Catholic trio dove into head first in Happy Valley. Now more than two years after signing with the Nittany Lions, Carr sat in the Bryce Jordan Center media room Monday with his mom and dad at his side and announced his desire to sign with an agent and declare for the NBA draft.
While Carr’s Penn State career will not lead to life beyond a sophomore season, Carr’s realization of an NBA dream is something that even Pat Chambers said he couldn’t stand in the way of.
“Tony Carr set the standard for sure,” Chambers said. “We’re going to miss him, but I think this is awesome. It’s great for his family, his mom, his dad, his cousins that are here in the back and his friends. It’s a dream come true. In no way, shape or form can we stand in the way of anybody’s dreams and we would never want to do that. … It’s going to hurt me, especially because of the relationship I’ve developed over his two years here, but I think it’s going to be a win-win for everybody, both Tony and this program.”
Carr led the Big Ten in scoring during the regular season at nearly 20 points per game and his final time wearing the blue and white included cutting down the net at Madison Square Garden after helping Penn State win the NIT on Thursday. But, it was what Carr did at The Garden earlier in the month during the Big Ten Tournament that helped force this decision that Carr vowed not to think much about until the season concluded.
Carr and Chambers both said they’ve heard draft projections — which Chambers reportedly called “glowing” after the Big Ten Tournament — ranging anywhere from 15-30 to 25-35. Carr could have elected to test the draft waters and not sign with an agent, but he said after thinking about that route it came back to the goal he’s had since he started playing basketball as a boy. Making it to the NBA isn’t something he wanted to wait around to pursue.
Even the chance to return to the floor with Nazeer Bostick and Lamar Stevens, Carr’s two best friends and also former high school teammates, and suit up for a team that could’ve entered next season ranked in the top 25 still couldn’t compare to this NBA dream that he’s spent nearly his whole life chasing.
“I think I’m leaving this program in a great place,” Carr said. “We just won a great championship at a great place in Madison Square Garden. We still have great players here and we have great freshmen coming in. … I’m definitely happy where I’m leaving this program and I felt like I’ve left my imprint on it.”
Carr’s teammates, whom Carr said he informed of his decision two days ago, said they didn’t want to pressure him one way or another. As many of them sat in the back of the media room Monday afternoon watching Carr say the word NBA out loud and smile while doing so, there’s no regrets or second guessing coming from those who spent the last two seasons watching Carr blossom into a Big Ten standout.
“We just told him, ‘Hey, whatever you do, decision you make, nothing is going to change. We’re all still brothers until the end,’ ” senior Shep Garner said. Garner, who also went to Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High School, helped pave the way for Carr to even consider Penn State. “This basketball stuff makes brotherhoods. It makes stuff that lasts forever. We just told him whatever decision you make we’re going to ride with you.”
Big man Mike Watkins greeted Carr in the hallway with a hug after the sophomore stepped away from the microphone and hugged his parents and Chambers. Stevens, who watched Carr explain his NBA decision from the back of the room, told a Penn State administrator that yes, he’s ready to step up and carry the load next season. The MVP of the NIT Championship Game will enter his junior season with more opportunities, while Watkins and Josh Reaves still give this team a lot to build around.
And, ultimately, the recruiting pitch Chambers delivered to Carr was followed through. While this is all new territory for Penn State basketball — a place where the idea of players even thinking about leaving early for the NBA isn’t something that happens — thanks to Carr that, too, is now part of the next pitch this staff can deliver to prospects. And that should carry some weight on the recruiting trail.
“He let me play my game and everything that he told me was going to happen, happened,” Carr said. “We had our one shining moment cutting down the nets and I’m just thankful for Coach always keeping it real with me and also for me coming here and playing with my two best friends that I came from high school with was great. There’s definitely great, great, great things that I’ll take away from this experience here.”