May 17, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – If you think Kareem Canty has been only waiting to become an eligible member of Marshall’s basketball team, you’d be wrong.
He’s been waiting, yes, but also longing, battling, observing, lifting, shooting, studying, prospering. The point guard from Harlem, N.Y., started summer classes this week, through with the academic year (two full semesters) he was ruled out by the NCAA as a non-qualifier.
He’s on the team. The guy nicknamed “NuNu” – he got the nickname from an aunt when he was a baby, and has no idea the roots of its origin – said he feels new.
Herd Coach Tom Herrion is welcoming a solid “recruiting class” of sorts -- six newcomers so far for 2013-14, three players who sat out here last season and three junior college transfers. The 6-foot-1 Canty could have made a major difference as a distributor and more in what became a 13-19 season.
“It’s over, and I feel like I’ve been here forever,” Canty said earlier this week, sitting in the Henderson Center first row. “But you’re sitting here watching the things the team went through, and the fans losing hope and players transferring since then.
“It really made has me stronger as a person, and it made me want to bring the guys together even more than before.
“It was hard. Every home game I came to watch, I just sat there and thought to myself, ‘I wonder what would have happened if I’d gotten a shot to play this year.’ I sat behind the bench, second row, felt like a scrub.
“It was really crushing, because I’d never had basketball taken away from me. I came here to play. It felt unreal at first, but then I had to man up to it.”
Canty said it didn’t help that the NCAA final ruling on his initial eligibility – it came in mid-November, two games into the Herd season – landed on top of what had been a nomadic finish to his high school and prep school days.
After three years at Bishop Loughlin High in Brooklyn, N.Y., he went to Bridgton Academy in Maine, then started a prep-school year at Westwind Academy in Phoenix. He said he left the Arizona school after one semester when there was a coaching change, then finished at Faith Baptist Christian in Brandon, Fla.
“It feels good now, being actually stable, and I’m actually happy for the first time in a long time,” Canty said. “I don’t have to worry about anything except going to school and hoop.
“After what happened, I have more patience. I’m more humble, appreciate things more, and I definitely got better on and off the court sitting out the year.”
Canty chose Marshall over Seton Hall, and also was offered by Florida State, Rutgers, Providence and Iowa State. Recruiting services had him among the nation’s top 25 point guards. His leadership on a Herd team in transition will be crucial, but he’s ready for that, he said.
“In the grand scheme of life, it may seem a little trivial, but that was as traumatic an experience and you can have for that young man to endure to this point in his life,” Herrion said. “Anytime you take someone away from somebody, under kind of -- not total -- greatly unexpected circumstances, it’s big.
“He got past the shock, the disappointment pretty quickly, and it seemed to us, based on the people who were able to interact with him more than (the coaching staff) under the rules, Kareem turned the page and channeled and focused his energies in a very positive direction in terms of his work ethic on and off the floor.
“I think he learned a lot being able to watch us often, daily, in games, in practice. I think he learned a lot, and unfortunately for all of us, it was a hard lesson. But I think he’s grown as a player from really being forced to take a step back in his life and see things.
“He’s matured as a person and done an excellent job in classroom, a great job. It’s been neat to watch.”
The NCAA’s decision, and its timing, started Herrion’s club down a slippery slope after MU had reached the 2012 NIT, a first appearance since 1988.
Canty, who turned 20 last month, said he’s just glad the experience is behind him.
“When I first was ruled ineligible, I thought about leaving here and then I thought about leaving around Christmastime,” Canty said. “But then I thought, I’m tired of transferring, or moving. I just want to be some place and be happy.
“I stayed and I’m happy, the first time I’ve been happy in a while. I’ve worked hard here. The people here are really good.”
Canty knows the team he is joining has a real need at his position, and he said he’s already making his voice heard about the 2013-14 season.
“I’ve worked a lot at being a leader, getting stronger, and also getting lot of shots up, so when my time comes, they can count on me,” Canty said of his time outside of official team activities. “I worked on getting stronger when I go to the basket and I’m shooting the jump shot with much more confidence.
“I’m pass first, mix it up, shoot it some, but I’d rather throw a lob and get other involved. I don’t want to dominate the ball that much, but the main thing for me now is I don’t go out anymore and take the game for granted.”
He’s also observed his Herd coach, and said he has a bench-player’s take on the fourth-year Marshall boss after sitting in the stands during team drills or a row back during games.
“The thing I learned about coach Herrion is how much patience he has with guys,” Canty said. “And I learned that no matter what the record is, he will always give us hope to win the next game and turn things around quickly.
“I’ve told my teammates there’s no more room for losing. The people who are here want to be here.
This summer is our biggest summer, because people don’t really believe in us now, but we believe in ourselves, in each other.”
For Canty, a college basketball career starts now. Better late than never, right?