Pitt game means 'everything' to Illinois-Chicago's Carter
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Paul Carter could be completing his college basketball career under the bright lights of Big Ten Conference arenas at the University of Minnesota this season. He could be attempting to help the Gophers reach the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season and play before numerous NBA scouts on a nightly basis.
Instead, Carter is finishing his collegiate career in relative anonymity at the University of Illinois-Chicago of the Horizon League. And Carter would not have it any other way.
A 6-foot-8 forward, Carter graduated early from Minnesota and was granted an NCAA waiver to transfer to Illinois-Chicago so he could be closer to his 14-year old sister, who is undergoing treatment for cancer.
Game: No. 5 Pitt (1-0) vs. Illinois-Chicago (0-0), 7 p.m. today, Petersen Events Center.
TV, Internet: KDKA-FM (93.7); www.pittsburghpanthers.com.
Pitt: Won its season opener against Rhode Island Monday night, 83-75. ... Senior G Brad Wanamaker tied his career high with 24 points. ... Junior G Ashton Gibbs scored 22 points. ... Shot 3 for 16 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Rhode Island, 38-14, in the lane and had outscored the Rams, 19-5, in fast-break points. ... Has won 39 of the past 40 home games.
Illinois-Chicago: Playing its season opener tonight. ... Had an 8-22 record last season, 3-15 in the Horizon League. ... Howard Moore is entering his first season as head coach of the Flames. Leading returning scorer is senior G Robo Kreps (15.2 ppg).
Of note: Pitt is 133-11 at the Petersen Events Center and has won 76 of its 77 games against non-conference opponents there.
Bria Carter has osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and had to have her right leg amputated in the spring after chemotherapy treatments were not working. Paul Carter wanted to be at his sister's side as she battled the disease.
Seven months after the amputation, Bria is doing well and will be in attendance tonight to watch her brother play against Pitt at the Petersen Events Center. The Carter family purchased 50 tickets for the game in what is a homecoming for Paul and his family.
Paul is the son of Ron Carter II, who grew up on the North Side and graduated from Perry Traditional Academy in 1974. Ron Carter played college basketball at Virginia Military Institute and was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1978. He played in the NBA for two seasons.
The Carter family comes to Pittsburgh at least once a year to visit, but this homecoming will be a most joyous one. After it appeared her cancer had taken a turn for the worse in the spring, doctors told Bria two weeks ago the two words they had been hoping to hear for almost a year: "cancer free."
Bria had a full body scan and doctors told her there is no cancer in her body.
"This game means everything to me," Paul Carter said. "This is the reason I wanted to come to UIC. It was so my family and my sister could get to go and to come and see me play. And now, for me to be playing in Pittsburgh when all of my family can come and watch ... this is a big for me."
Even though they are eight years apart, Paul and Bria are extremely close. Bria was diagnosed with cancer last December, and the second half of last season was tortuous for Paul. They tried to keep in touch via cell phone and Skype.
Ron Carter said on the days Bria's chemotherapy drained her and she could not talk, Paul would sit in front of his computer screen in Minnesota and watch his sister sleep. It was the only way for him to truly know what his sister was going through.
"It was extremely difficult for him," Ron Carter said. "Thank God for cell phones and Skype. That's what got the two of them through. They would sit in front of the computer for hours."
Despite the personal trials, Paul managed to average 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds for the Gophers, who made the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed. After the Gophers lost in the first round to Xavier and the family received the news that the cancer was not responding to treatment, Paul knew he had to transfer back to the Chicago area so he could be with Bria as she went through her treatments.
Now they can see each other whenever they want. Paul has been with her as she learns how to walk with her prosthetic leg. He will watch her walk into high school for the first time next week. Bria missed the first few months of the school year as she finished up her chemotherapy treatments.
"My transition here is going better than expected," Paul said. "My teammates and coaches have been very supportive of my personal situation."
Paul and his father are not the only famous athletes in the family. Ron Carter III, Paul's older brother, is a professional long jumper and competed in the 2008 United States Olympic Trials. He is currently training to make the 2012 Olympic team.
Their father's great uncle was Negro League great Josh Gibson of the Homestead Grays. Annie Mahaffey, Ron Carter II's grandmother, was Gibson's sister.
"I like to tell people I descend from sports royalty," Ron Carter II said.
Paul said having famous athletes in the family had a way of humbling him as he grew up.
"It's a blessing to have those bloodlines," Paul said. "Any accomplishments I have are probably belittled by everything that they've done. But knowing what they have done, it keeps me working hard."
Despite the transfer to Illinois-Chicago, Paul still has aspirations of following in his father's footsteps and playing in the NBA. Ron Carter II remains close with his former coach, Pat Riley, and former teammates, Kurt Rambis and Mitch Kupchak, all of whom are currently working in the league in various capacities.
But the NBA dream is months away. An entire season with a new team awaits. It begins tonight with his sister by his side. And that dream coming true is all Paul Carter ever really wanted.
First Published November 10, 2010 12:00 am