No. 5 Carl English

Robin
Robin Short
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English's athleticism is as good as his story

To many, Carl English is defined more by his past than the present ... orphaned at five, growing up in a tiny Cape Shore community, learning to play basketball on the side of a highway hugging Placentia Bay.

It might even overshadow English, the brilliant basketball player, whose ascent from rural Newfoundland to one of Canada's best on the hardwood has him in the five spot on our list of the province's all-time top 10 athletes.

- File photo by The Associated Press

To many, Carl English is defined more by his past than the present ... orphaned at five, growing up in a tiny Cape Shore community, learning to play basketball on the side of a highway hugging Placentia Bay.

It might even overshadow English, the brilliant basketball player, whose ascent from rural Newfoundland to one of Canada's best on the hardwood has him in the five spot on our list of the province's all-time top 10 athletes.

Carl English's basketball career is something out of "Hoosiers," the brilliant Gene Hackman basketball flick about a rural David of a basketball team knocking off the big-city Goliaths.

Growing up in Patrick's Cove (population 50), English's court was hand-painted three-point and foul-shooting lines, taking up two traffic lanes, and a crude homemade net.

The net rested at the end of Betty and Junior McGrath's driveway. English lived with the McGraths since 1986 when a fire destroyed the English family home in nearby Branch and killed his parents, Kevin and Lavina.

Carl, who was five, and his four brothers escaped through an upstairs window.

Through much of his youth, Carl English was the proverbial big fish in a small pond, a starter on the Fatima high senior boys team since Grade 8. When he wasn't in the gym, he was outside the McGrath home, shooting hoops, even in the dead of winter when the cold wind off the ocean numbed the fingers.

When the winds howled, English worked on his ball handling and dunking. On calm days, he'd shoot endlessly.

"That boy," said Gord Pike, his high school principal and basketball coach, in a 1999 story that ran in The Telegram and National Post, "is happy doing nothing else but playing basketball."

English rose to national prominence in 1997, at the Brandon, Man., Canada Summer Games. He was a 16-year-old starter on a Newfoundland team comprised mainly of 17- and 18-year-olds.

And while the youngster made mistakes, there was no mistaking or overlooking his skill.

A year after the Brandon Games, English took his basketball skills to the mainland, enrolling at St. Thomas Aquinas school in Oakville, Ont., where he stayed with relatives.

As poor luck would have it, a dispute between Ontario teachers and the government virtually shut down extracurricular activity and English was left without a game and about to come home.

Then fate intervened. He earned a spot on the Adidas Ontario under-18 team which travelled to the United States, where National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) scouts took notice.

English was so good, basketball factories like Georgetown, Michigan and Syracuse expressed some interest.

But of the schools that recruited English, the one he was most intrigued by was Hawaii, and in the fall of 1999, he journeyed from an island in the Atlantic to one in the Pacific.

Over the next four years, English would emerge as a star with the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in NCAA Division I college basketball, a level of basketball much higher than anything played in Canada.

In his final year at Hawaii, English led the team with 19.6 points per game and finished second in Western Athletic Conference scoring. He was named to the WAC first all-star team and all-WAC Tournament team.

After red-shirting as a freshman in 1999-2000 with season-ending ankle surgery, English had a year of NCAA eligibility remaining but opted to forgo it, instead declaring himself for the NBA Draft.

Guided by a pair of unknown and unqualified "agents," English was convinced he was first-round material. Others connected with the NBA thought otherwise.

As a large crowd convened at downtown Toronto nightclub for an NBA Draft party, English winced through two disappointing rounds as 58 names were called. The Newfoundlander, who'd been pegged to go in the second round by most Internet draft sites, had gone undrafted.

While that wouldn't matter much in, say, hockey, basketball is different. With reduced rosters, and more and more Europeans entering the NBA, making an NBA team as an undrafted free agent is difficult, if not impossible.

So for the next couple of years, English toiled in basketball's minor leagues, from the Charleston Lowgators to the Florida Flame of the National Basketball Development League, foregoing a bigger paycheque overseas for the 25 grand in the "D League."

For the next couple of years, English would get only a small glimpse of life in the NBA. He would attend the training camps of the Indiana Pacers and Seattle Supersonics, though nothing would come of the invites.

Finally, after a couple years in basketball's bush leagues, English headed overseas.

Three years ago, English played in Italy before moving to Croatia in 2007, where he won the Croatian National Cup with Zadar and finished second in league scoring.

This season, he moved to Spain to play for Gran Canaria.

English is coming off another stint with the national team that's fallen on hard times. It recently went 1-2 in the Beijing Olympic qualifying tournament in Athens, a follow-up to missing the 2006 world championship.

Regardless, English has spent four years with the Canadian team, a feat that might best described as incomprehensible for a youngster from tiny Patrick's Cove.

English still talks of the NBA, though that boat might have sailed a long time ago.

Still, considering what he's accomplished so far on the U.S. college and international stage, English has done enough to crack the top five on our distinguished list.

rshort@thetelegram.com




Selection criteria

The object: To select the 10 best athletes Newfoundland and Labrador has produced. Seven prominent individuals with an impressive sports background, together with Robin Short, Brendan McCarthy and John Browne of The Telegram's sports department, were chosen to make the selections.
The criteria: Athletes must have been born in Newfoundland and Labrador and spent a large part of their development years within the province. The field was open to amateur and professional, and male and female athletes.
The selection panel
John McGrath: A former Newfoundland soccer president, McGrath is chairman of the board of governors for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame.
Brian Brocklehurst: A two-sport star in St. John's during the late 1960s and '70s, Brocklehurst was the 1969 St. John's athlete of the year.
Don Johnson: A former president of both the Canadian and Newfoundland amateur hockey associations, Johnson was also head of the St. John's Senior Men's Softball League and Royal St. John's Regatta Committee. He has served on the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and Canada Games Council.
Roger Grimes: Otherwise known as a former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, those in sports know him as an erstwhile Grand Falls Cataracts senior hockey player and Grand Falls Beothuks senior baseball player.
Terry Hart: Another Grand Falls-Windsor native, Hart has broadcasted local sports for over 30 years. He continues in radio today at VOCM.
Glenn Stanford: He's known most recently as the man who ran the St. John's Maple Leafs for 14 seasons. But before that, Stanford was a two-sport star - basketball and soccer - with Holy Cross and Memorial.
Alan (Tex) Seaborn: Seaborn has had a long-standing involvement with the Corner Brook and Newfoundland baseball associations. He served as vice-chairman and vice-president of sport for the 1999 Canada Winter Games in Corner Brook.



Top 10 best athletes

1. TBA -Aug. 23, 2008
2. TBA -Aug. 16, 2008
3. TBA -Aug. 9, 2008
4. TBA -Aug. 2, 2008
5. Carl English
6. Daniel Cleary
7. Frank Humber
8. Paul McCloy
9. Colin Abbott
10. Michael Ryder

Organizations: U.S. college, Patrick's, National Collegiate Athletic Association NBA The Telegram National Post St. Thomas Aquinas school University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors National Basketball Development League D League Indiana Pacers Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall Softball League and Royal Regatta Committee Canadian Sports Hall Fame and Canada Games Council Maple Leafs

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Placentia Bay Hawaii St. John's Oakville Ontario United States Georgetown Michigan Syracuse Atlantic Pacific Toronto Italy Croatia Spain Athens Corner Brook Grand Falls-Windsor

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Recent comments

  • John
    July 02, 2010 - 13:22

    This is simply a great story. It's to bad Carl opted out of his last year of NCAA to declare for the draft. He would have been a force in his final year and would have undoubtedly been drafted in the first round. Glad to hear he continues to play overseas and with the national team.

  • Denis
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    What about Bert Squires? Remember him? Came 4th in the world back in the
    days when the Soviet Union was a power house and had some of the best athletes in the world. Wasn't good enough to be voted St. John's athlete of the year. What a joke!

  • John
    July 01, 2010 - 20:06

    This is simply a great story. It's to bad Carl opted out of his last year of NCAA to declare for the draft. He would have been a force in his final year and would have undoubtedly been drafted in the first round. Glad to hear he continues to play overseas and with the national team.

  • Denis
    July 01, 2010 - 19:48

    What about Bert Squires? Remember him? Came 4th in the world back in the
    days when the Soviet Union was a power house and had some of the best athletes in the world. Wasn't good enough to be voted St. John's athlete of the year. What a joke!