Morgan State University senior forward Phillip Carr swears he's not a vocal leader.
"Ever since my sophomore year I've always tried to grow as a vocal leader, but it's just not me," the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason men's basketball Player of the Year said.
But there's little doubt that when Carr's teammates see him running twice a day in the summer heat, spending extra time in the weight room and working on his game even after the gym lights are off, they can't help but be motivated.
"All leaders are not necessarily vocal leaders," Morgan State head coach Todd Bozeman said. "With how hard Phil works, he has the respect of every one of his teammates. He works hard in the summer, goes hard in every drill and never questions anything the coaches tell him."
The 6-foot-9 Brooklyn, N.Y., native didn't make his Transit Tech CTE High School team until his senior year. He was cut every year in junior high, too. Carr played for various AAU teams during that time, kept working on his game, and most importantly, kept growing. As a senior at Transit, Carr did enough to earn the team's Most Improved Player award.
"I had gone out for the team every year, so I had some recognition," he said. "I was one of the tallest kids in the school, so, honestly, to this day I think that's why I made the team. I just played within myself and didn't try to do too much other than rebound and score on put-backs. I had a minimal role at best."
Carr didn't know what his basketball future was then, but he had gotten a taste of the game and thirsted for more. He enrolled at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, N.Y., and isn't sure how he wound up there other than it provided an opportunity to play more basketball. During the 2013-14 season at Mohawk, he averaged 8.4 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field and 33 percent from 3-point range.
"At Mohawk, I was always one of the tallest guys on the court," Carr recalled. "Most of the [centers] were like 6-[foot]-5, 190 pounds. Nothing too crazy. Every now and then there might be a 6-[foot]-9 very uncoordinated kid I'd play against."
When you're the tallest guy on the court you automatically draw attention. But when you're the tallest guy on the court, grab rebounds and shoot better than 30 percent from beyond the arc, it's just a matter of time before you get an opportunity. That opportunity would come at Williston State College in North Dakota. Carr showed enough potential at Mohawk to draw interest from a Williston program that was sending players to big-time NCAA Division I schools.
Although he redshirted at Williston, news of Carr's potential spread through mutual Brooklyn connections all the way back to Bozeman at Morgan State.
"We get calls from guys all the time about kids who have potential," Bozeman said. "We didn't see Phil play. We brought him to campus for a visit, and you just couldn't help but like the kid. We worked him out and he shot the ball pretty well for a kid with his length. You never know about someone until you get to know them up close and personal. He has a tremendous work ethic and is relentless in his approach to the game the way he works and stays in the gym and is always trying to get better."
With his only collegiate experience having come in tiny community college gyms, Carr had to face fourth-ranked Virginia in Charlottesville in his first Division I game on Nov. 12, 2015. He scored eight points that night and has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
"It was definitely a big transition," Carr said. "The caliber of play was completely different, and I had never even been in a Division I gym before that. You had thousands of people screaming at you, and I got to see how a Division I program was run. We drove down the day before the game instead of three hours before and got to practice, watch tape and go through the scouting report. I had never seen that before."
That game propelled Carr to a solid sophomore campaign in which he played in 31 games, averaging 10.5 points and 8.8 rebounds. He proved he could play at that level, but that wasn't enough.
"That summer I put in a lot of work," he said. "I started running every day, sometimes twice a day, at Lake Montebello, and I really started taking my leg days in the weight room especially seriously since building that base keeps the legs strong during the season. It was the hardest-working summer of my life, and I guess it paid off. "
It paid off to the tune of a first-team All-MEAC junior season that saw Carr average 16.6 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 44.8 percent from 3-point range. He also was named the conference's top defensive player.
Despite the accolades and being considered the MEAC's top returning player, Carr, not surprisingly, isn't satisfied. He wants to average 20 points and 10 rebounds, be first-team all-conference and earn the Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards.
That's not selfishness; it's just what Carr feels he needs to do to help the team, which has been picked to win the MEAC, live up to expectations. He has professional basketball dreams beyond college, and according to Bozeman. "shot the cover off the ball" in a recent pro workout. But for now, the pros can wait.
"The team goals I have really go hand in hand with my own performance," he said. "We are a bunch of hungry young Bears. We want to win the conference and tournament. We need to go to the dance. It's been a while for us here. I want a banner with our name on it in the rafters when we come back. Not everyone can say that."
Photo Credit: Lawrence Johnson/Morgan State Athletics