Vaught's Views: Carrier loving life on UK's bench

March 21, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Offense won games for both teams Friday, but Kentucky and Alabama-Birmingham expect defense to play a much bigger role in today's NCAA Tournament second round game.

No, he wasn't the star of the game for the Wildcats in their 96-76 victory over Florida A&M. Instead, he played his usual backup role and had no points, two rebounds and one assist in only four minutes of play. However, Carrier insists that even if others don't understand how he could be happy with such a limited role, he wouldn't trade his spot on the Kentucky bench for anything.

"People just don't understand what being here means to me," said Carrier, a former Mr. Basketball in Kentucky. "This is something special to be part of. I've had a heck of a run here in my three years. The fans, the coaches, my teammates, the whole experience has been wonderful.

"Most people have no idea just how special being part of this program is. That's why I am here. I could have gone other places and hopefully contributed more than I have here, but just contributing anything at a place like Kentucky leaves me speechless."


He bleeds blue, which helps him deal with the almost constant rumors and/or criticism. He averages just 1.3 points and 8.5 minutes per game this year. His forte is outside shooting, but he's hitting only 29.6 percent from 3-point range and has made just 21 3-point shots in three seasons.

Carrier won't read newspapers or Internet message boards to avoid having his feelings hurt.

"I know deep down inside what is going on and I don't want that other stuff messing with my mind," Carrier said.

Yet he knows the whispers about his future are there. Kentucky has four perimeter players in its current recruiting class and transfer Patrick Sparks, a point guard, also becomes eligible next season. Considering that two of the recruits - Rajon Rondo and Joe Crawford - are McDonald's All-Americans, it would seem playing time could be even harder for Carrier to get next year despite the graduation of Cliff Hawkins, Gerald Fitch and Antwain Barbour.

Kentucky also currently has 14 players that could be on scholarship next year - one over the NCAA limit - and is still recruiting Georgia high school senior Randolph Morris. If the Cats get Morris, which seems possible, that would put them at 15 players next year. Even if one player transfers, that would still leave UK one over the 13 allowed scholarships.

Carrier said he's not been asked to become a walk-on player next year to help balance the scholarship numbers. As a senior and an in-state player, he would seem the most logical player to make that sacrifice if needed.

"I have not heard that or been asked about doing that, but whatever will help the team, that is what I have done my whole career," Carrier said. "Whatever happens, happens. But I would not take it as an insult. I wouldn't walk away from Kentucky if asked to do that. I would take it, talk it over with my coaches and family, and then see what happens. But I plan to be back here no matter what."

Carrier and Chuck Hayes, UK's other junior, passed out the framed jerseys and pictures to UK's five seniors at the recent Senior Day game. "We were talking about how time has flown by and that next year we would be out there," Carrier said.

Again, he doesn't sound like a player even considering playing anywhere but Kentucky. He's accepted his role at Kentucky. He tried playing point guard this year, but recently has settled more into a reliable role as his more natural position of wing player. Whether he plays five minutes or 10 minutes, he's happy.

"I am comfortable with my role. I've accepted it and have no complaints," Carrier said. "I know to come in and play solid and avoid mistakes. I don't have to do anything spectacular to help us win. I am out there to give the starter a rest."

He'll gladly fill that role again today against Alabama-Birmingham here in a game that will determine which team advances to the St. Louis Regional semifinals. He still dreams of being on a national champion, which is the biggest reason he came to Kentucky.

He's accepted he will never be UK's leading scorer or best player. But he insists he's at peace and still would do anything to help the team win.

"I have grown up a lot here and learned to be patient and use my head," Carrier said. "You learn to take things one day at a time at this level. You don't worry about what you can't control or what is ahead.

"But I love it here. It's unbelievable just being here and games like the ones here, and hopefully ahead, are what make being at Kentucky so special and why I'll never have any regrets about my career here."

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