From the Memphisport Archives: Carney Ride

For at least a 10 game stretch, Rodney Carney will once again be playing basketball with Memphis written on his jersey, so we thought we would take a look back at a feature on Rodney that we published more than four years ago during his rookie season in the NBA. This article originally appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Memphisport.

Carney Ride

Rodney Carney begins the ride of his life as he enters the NBA circus

His blue and gray uniform, sporting the familiar number 10, has been replaced by a black model, trimmed in red, accented with white stars with a new number—25. His signature white knee-high hosiery was scrapped in favor of black ankle socks. And, the next time he plays at FedExForum, he’ll be dressing in the visiting team’s locker room.

A lot has changed for former Tiger Rodney Carney since being taken as the 16th pick in the 2006 NBA draft. But, as French novelist and journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once wrote, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change the more they stay the same.

The Rodney Carney who hit a game-winning three pointer against the Phoenix Suns in the pre-season is still the same Rodney Carney who played right here in Memphis. He has the same desire to take the crucial shot, and he has the same desire to lock his man up defensively, just as he did against college All-Americans J.J. Reddick and Adam Morrison last season. He still has the same “Did you see that?” smile that made him one of the all-time fan favorites at the University of Memphis. It is a feat he’d like to duplicate in the City of Brotherly Love.

Flying Under the Radar

Carney’s draft night took longer than most analysts had expected. Most mock drafts had projected him to be selected in the top 10, but Carney wasn’t selected until the Chicago Bulls took him with their 16th pick. Then, completing a trade earlier in the night in which the Sixers selected Switzerland’s Thabo Sefolosha and dealt him to the Bulls, Chicago sent Carney on his way to Philadelphia.

Did the previous 14 teams (New Orleans had two picks in the top 15) simply miss the boat on Carney? Or, was he, once again, in the familiar spot of flying under the basketball radar like he did as a senior coming out of Indianapolis?

As a high school senior, Carney went against tradition and did not sign a college letter of intent in the early signing period. In fact, he wasn’t even listed among the top 250 high school recruits in the country by the recruiting experts. “[Not being listed] was because I didn’t play AAU basketball,” Carney says. “My coach said it would give me bad habits. So, I listened to him and look where I am.” In the spring of his senior year, Carney was offered a scholarship by Memphis head coach John Calipari when Tiger recruit Qyntel Woods chose to enter the NBA draft. The rest, as they say, is history.

On draft night, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that the Bulls had taken Carney and handed him the team’s red cap as he strode to the stage. That cap wouldn’t stay on Carney’s dome very long, as the deal with the Sixers came full circle. As far as playing in Philadelphia goes, Carney says, “It’s going to be a great opportunity. I’m going to bring athleticism and as much as I can to the organization. It’s a real honor to be up here.”

That’s the same Rodney Carney that Memphians came to know and love. The same skinny kid from Indianapolis who flew under the radar looking for an opportunity and making the most of the one he found.

Rook Hits a Big Shot

It took Carney exactly two pre-season games to make his presence known in the NBA. His breakout took place during a nationally televised game against the Phoenix Suns played in Cologne, Germany. With 10.5 seconds left in the game and the Suns leading 100-99, Sixers guard Rick Brunson drove the lane and found Carney open on the left wing. Carney, toed up behind the three-point line, rose above the defense and sank the game-winning bucket.

According to Sixers forward Kyle Korver, that wasn’t the play head coach Maurice Cheeks had called during the previous timeout. “That wasn’t our play, I don’t think,” Korver said, smiling. “I don’t even know what the play was. Rook hit a big shot for us. He hit that shot and I looked at him like ‘The NBA’s fun isn’t it?’”

After the game, Carney said being able to be on the floor for the duration of the fourth quarter allowed him to get into the flow and gave him the confidence he needed to take the game-winning shot. “It felt great to get out there and play the whole fourth quarter of the game,” Carney said. “Coming in as a rookie, I didn’t know what to expect—if I was going to play or not—so for me to win a game like that is just crazy.”

Carney credits his teammates for helping him get used to the speed of the NBA game and for keeping him focused on his responsibilities, both defensive and offensive. “I’ve learned a lot defensively since I’ve been here,” Carney says. “[Andre Iguodala], teaches me a lot, and Kyle tells me a lot on the defensive end. Offensively, [Allen Iverson] tells me to slow down, and Coach tells me to slow down a lot.”

Again, the same Rodney Carney. The same defensive specialist who impressed national television audiences by clamping down on Reddick and Morrison. The same human highlight reel that wowed Tiger fans so many times that it’s impossible to count them all.

The Philly Phanatics

But what about playing in Philadelphia? A city whose fans are famous, or infamous rather, for their sports passion—to the point of launching an all-out snowball assault at Santa Claus during an Eagles game in 2003. Fans who, despite their undying support, are also quick to voice their discontent with their own teams. What do those fans think about Rodney Carney?

To get a true sense of what Philadelphia fans think, all you have to do is drive out to northeast Philly to the corner of Robbins Street and Mulberry Street. That’s the original location of Chickie’s & Pete’s Crab House and Sports Bar, rated by ESPN as one of the top three sports bars in the country. The fans there are more than happy to give you their opinion.

“To be honest, I don’t know that much about him,” says 36-year-old Philadelphia native Tim Nolan. “I do remember seeing him on ESPN a few times throwing down some insane dunks. If he’s able to do some of that during his rookie season, the fans here will fall in love with him.” Dan Cichetti agrees that Carney’s signature shots could be his way in with local fans. “What I’ve seen of him has been really good,” Cichetti says. “I think he won a lot of Philly fans over when he hit that three-pointer against the Suns. But, you know, we are Philadelphia fans, and it’s what-have-you-done-for-me-lately that counts, so he’ll have to continue to do it in the regular season in order to really win the fans over permanently.”

It looks like it is more of the same for Rodney Carney. When his career began at Memphis, most Tiger fans didn’t know who he was either—much less have an idea of what kind of collegiate career he would have. It was Carney’s athleticism and heart that won over the Memphis fans. Yes, Alphonse Karr was right. The more things change, the more they stay the same. At least, they do for Rodney Carney. The uniform, the colors, the number, the socks, the name across the front—all different. But the guy wearing it, the smile, the heart? Still the same Rodney Carney.

Written by Randy Malone. This article originally appeared in the November/December 2006 issue of Memphisport.

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