It was the 2003 NBA Draft and Carl English had invited his family to a downtown Toronto restaurant. After an amazing career at the University of Hawaii, the sharpshooter was supposed to be a late first round pick. Everyone was waiting for David Stern to walk up to the podium and announce that an NBA team had selected English. Then, the celebration could begin. That moment never happened. The entire NBA took a pass. Twice. No team picked Carl English in the first or second round.
Two years have passed and he has just finished his season with the Florida Flame of the NBDL. There were no Sunday games on ABC, just long bus rides, half-empty stadiums and meager paychecks. But things have never been easy for Carl English. When he was five, English lost his parents in a house fire. He went to live with his Uncle Junior and Aunt Betty in tiny Patrick’s Cove, Newfoundland. Basketball became an outlet and English would spend hours shooting on an outdoor hoop that backed onto a remote highway. “There wasn’t much else around,” laughs English. “Basketball has been my way out. My peaceful place and my life revolved around it.”
Nothing could stop basketball practice. Snow would be removed from the court with a shovel; the rain wasn’t an issue either. During the summer, he would ignore the heat and stay out on the road perfecting his moves.
His dedication and talent went mostly unnoticed until 1999. That summer, English toured the United States with a Canadian All-Star team and caught the eye of a few NCAA Division 1 schools. Baylor, Notre Dame and Hawaii were all impressed by what they saw: a six-foot five-inch athlete with crazy range on his jump shot. Hawaii won the bidding war and English traded the island community of Patrick’s Cove for the tropical islands of the Pacific Ocean.
With his bags packed for Hawaii, English had to overcome another family tragedy. Uncle Junior passed away on a fishing trip. A few months later, English injured his left ankle and was given a medical redshirt for his first year at the University of Hawaii. For once, basketball couldn’t be his outlet. Over the next three years, Carl English put in work and became a college basketball star. Dick Vitale loved the Canadian’s game and his Hawaii Rainmakers got their shine on in the 2001 and 2002 NCAA tournament. ESPN Magazine and USA Today both ran feature stories on English. After his junior year, the kid from rural Newfoundland declared himself eligible for the 2003 NBA Draft. English finished his collegiate career as the University of Hawaii’s seventh all-time leading scorer.
The next few months in Carl English’s basketball life make very little sense. Combo guards who can shoot usually end up being selected somewhere in the first round. Throw in his leadership skills and most thought he could have a solid NBA career. So what went wrong? How did guards like Marcus Banks, Reece Gaines and Troy Bell get picked in the first round instead of English? How could NBA teams take European and American teenagers over a mature player such as English? Why would the Toronto Raptors pass on a Canadian with the fifty-second pick to take prospect Remon Van de Hare?
The problems started at the Chicago pre-draft workouts. English slipped out of the first round because NBA GMs thought he was too slow to play the “1” spot and too small to line up at off-guard. Without a true position, his accomplishments at Hawaii were quickly forgotten. Banks, Gaines and Bell passed English in the draft rankings and were all selected in the mid-to-late first round. These guards have all collected NBA paychecks to sit on their club’s bench.
Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki have changed the way NBA teams draft players. These three players entered the league as teenagers and quickly became superstars. Teams now had to take high school kids and international players based on their potential over established NCAA stars. In English’s 2003 draft year, five high school players and 15 Europeans were selected. With the exception of first overall pick LeBron James, none of them have made any impact in the NBA.
In June of 2003, the Toronto Raptors had bigger issues than Carl English. They had just missed the playoffs for the first time in three years. The front office was taking heat for giving Michael “Yogi” Stewart millions of dollars and funding the first few years of Hakeem Olajuwon’s retirement. Coach Lenny Wilkens had just been fired. Vince Carter was struggling with injuries. Former Raptors’ GM Glen Grunwald was trying to keep the dinosaurs from going extinct and missed what a talented Canadian could bring to the club.
Two years after the 2003 draft, English can’t explain what happened. However, he insists that it’s behind him.
“I try not to think about it. I mean it was the draft. I thought I was going to go and didn’t. But there’s no use looking back on decisions I’ve made. I’ve got to go forward and try to get into the NBA. I mean, I can’t look back and say things I should have done. What if? What if this? What if that? So, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. I did when it happened. I’m over it now.”
The Indiana Pacers had scouted English and invited the guard to their 2003-2004 training camp. At his first pro camp, the kid from tiny Patrick’s Cove showed that he could ball with the best players in the world. Superstar Reggie Miller even took English under his wing. Unfortunately, his NBA dream came down to numbers. The Pacers already had 16 guaranteed contracts and stuck with second round pick James Jones instead of English.
Last September, Seattle asked English to attend their training camp. The club was loaded with perimeter players and he got cut. However, game can always recognize game and English remembers a conversation he had with Sonics’ star Ray Allen.
“I remember Ray saying this to me before I left there. He said to me that he wasn’t sure what this situation could give me. He also said, no matter what I was good enough to play at this level. No one can take that away. A lot of it is getting in the right situation at the right time.”
That right situation hasn’t come. There have only been rumors. During the 2004 season, the Raptors were apparently looking to sign English, but went with Jannero Pargo and veteran Rod Strickland. He’s also been linked to New York, where former Pacers’ coach Isiah Thomas is working as the Knicks’ GM. Frustration has started to set in for English and he recently fired his agent for not returning phone calls.
Right now, there’s no Air Canada Centre or Madison Square Garden for Carl English. Last season, the NBA dream took him through Roanoke, Virginia. Other nights, his Florida Flame played in rural Alabama. Hopefully, an NBA scout or GM will notice the 14 points per game scoring average and 46% shooting from beyond the arc. It may never happen. Then again, things have never been easy for Carl English.