By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
Omar Reed went from Bluefield College to professional basketball, and is still playing to this day, pursuing his dream of playing in the NBA.
Byron Carpenter’s dreams are much the same.
“Definitely,” he said. “That is my dream.”
Bluefield College head coach Richard Morgan can see it happening.
“He will definitely do that,” Morgan said. “We will push him like we did ‘Juice’ (Reed) to get him a look somewhere and hopefully he will be able to make a little money playing the game he loves.”
While Reed, a product of Tazewell, became a dominant force at Bluefield, and is now with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA’s development league, Carpenter has done much the same at the college level, having recently scored the 1,500th point of his career, which was a surprise to him.
“It’s been a very humbling experience,” Carpenter said. “I wasn’t paying attention to the numbers, I was just trying to help the team win and do my part as a captain and senior this year.”
Carpenter hasn’t scored all those points from outside either. He’s a throwback, a dominating presence who thrives inside, having attempted just two 3s all season long.
“I just work hard, man,” said Carpenter, after another solid performance for the Rams, which had included 15 straight games with at least 20 points, a streak that ended in a loss to Pikeville earlier this month. “God blessed me and allowed me to stay healthy to play enough games to get that.”
That number should continue to grow. Carpenter is second in the Mid-South Conference and seventh nationally in NAIA Division I with 22.1 points a game. He is also contributing 6.5 rebounds and just under one block a contest.
“He worked on his game over the summer and has improved tremendously,” Morgan said. “He knows what he wants to do and how he wants to accomplish it. He reads the defense very well.
“I think that’s a tribute to him working so hard this summer and trying to figure out what to do to carry this team on his back.”
He does it as a undersized 6-7 center, who plays with his back to the basket, a near rarity in today’s game where the emphasis has become more on a perimeter game with an emphasis on the three-point shot.
“In the new school of basketball, nobody really throws it inside anymore,” Morgan said. “When he gets going, it’s hard to stop him. You can send how ever many you want down there, but he just has a knack for scoring. He knows how to use his body and he’s got great footwork.”
Carpenter was held to 14 points by Pikeville back on Jan. 5, but Bears’ head coach Kelly Wells still raves about him. Wells knows basketball, having led the unseeded Bears to the 2011 NAIA national championship.
“Byron is a tremendous player,” Wells said. “We actually wanted him out of high school, but we didn’t have any positions open at the post spot at that time, and he has just wreaked havoc on us ever since.
“We tried to throw as many different looks at him tonight. He is just a tremendous player, he is leading our league in scoring, that will tell you how good he is, he is a good kid too.”
A senior from Virginia Beach, Carpenter played one season at the community college level, which is where Morgan first saw him on the court.
“Going down and getting him out of Tidewater Community College was huge for us,” Morgan said. “The first thing I told him when I met him, I said, ‘If you listen to everything I tell you I will make you an All-American,’ and he laughed.
“He is an All-American, 1,500 points, and everybody loves him here. He is a good guy, he is what you want in your program as your pillar.”
Much like Reed, who still brings smiles to Morgan’s face.
“He is one of my pillars, along with Omar Reed,” Morgan said. “Those two guys, in my opinion, are the best guys I have had since I have been here and I have some other guys that are coming right up behind them.”
While Carpenter is modest about all those points, Morgan knows how impressive reaching 1,500 is. After all, he scored 1,540 as an All-ACC performer at the University of Virginia.
“It means we went to him a lot,” Morgan said. “That’s the thing I promised him when he came here. Whatever he adds on from here is going to be gravy. It means a lot just to get to 1,000, so to get to 1,500 is a remarkable feat. I’m very proud of him from that standpoint.”
Carpenter has seen a step up in competition this season with the Rams’ move to the Mid-South Conference, but has adjusted just fine, even though the opposition knows he’s getting the ball.
“I told everybody, with our big man, you have got to guard him,” Morgan said. “At any moment you can go off and with adding (6-7 newcomer) Pierre (Walters), I think that will take the load off him a little bit. I think he will be able to do more with less.
“He is a very talented guy and you have got to respect him on the floor.”
Respect is something that Bluefield has sought this season. The transition to the Mid-South hasn’t been easy, not with a 6-11 record and a 2-7 mark in the 11-team league, but Carpenter still doesn’t believe in the preseason predictions that had the Rams finishing in last place.
“That is disrespectful, honestly, that is how we feel,” said Carpenter, after the Rams dropped a hard-fought decision to Pikeville on Jan. 5, which was then the fourth-ranked team in NAIA and has now moved to second. “We are going to keep playing like that until the last game we play.
“That is how we are, we fight until the clock strikes zero.”
That goes double for Carpenter. Unlike Reed, who could fire the ball in from long range, Carpenter does his work inside, and does it well against a league full of talented big men of equal size or larger looking to stop his production.
“I just go with it,” said Carpenter, with a laugh. “It is rough, but I am good with it, I am a tough guy.”
Carpenter deflects the credit for his inside prowess to his father, allowing him to become a force, despite often being the subject of gimmick defenses and double-and-triple-teams meant to slow him down.
“It’s amazing to me,” Morgan said. “He can just back you in and hold that pivot foot down and fake until you get tired of covering him, and then he just scores an easy little bucket. I don’t know why he ever leaves the paint to shoot those little jumpers.”
He has produced all over the court, and has improved as each season has passed. He has made 59.4 percent (117-197) from the field this year, and is also effective at the charity stripe, making 72.9 percent (97-133) of those shots.
“I feel like I have progressed, I am a better scorer, I am going to be a better rebounder by the end of the season, and I know I have worked on my free throws,” said Carpenter, who officially reached the 1,500th point mark against Lindsey Wilson on Jan. 10.
Those free throws were a point of emphasis last summer, after his percentage was stuck in the mid-60s.
“I know they like to play hard on me,” Carpenter said. “Maybe the word out there is that I’m soft or something. I feel like if they play that hard on me, they are going to possibly foul me, and I can hit the free throws.”
Carpenter knows the odds might be against the Rams when the MSC tourney is held next month, but don’t count out any team the talented senior plays on.
“I think we can get to the (league) championship game,” Carpenter said. “We can beat anybody the conference also, I believe that.”
As for his future, Carpenter is on track to graduate in May, which brings another smile to Morgan.
“Academically, he’s going to be on time to graduate,” Morgan said. “That means more to me than any hook shot he’s made.”
That will be followed by a move to the ‘real world’, which he expects to be somewhere on a basketball court.
“Definitely, that is my dream, I am going to keep working hard, working all during the summer and all season, but right now I am going to keep playing and get my team to the championship game,” he said.
Basketball has been a part of Carpenter for most of his life. That isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
“I am going to keep playing hard until I can’t play no more,” he said.
—Trey Wilson of www.bluefield.edu/athletics contributed to this report.