A fitting finale for Carse

More news about: Hardin-Simmons
Carse would love to cut down another net at the sectional, which takes place across the Ohio River from his boyhood home.
Hardin-Simmons Athletics photo 

By Brian Lester

Listen to Hardin-Simmons head men's basketball coach Craig Carse talk for a moment, and in an instant, the tone of his voice makes you feel as if you are chatting with a neighbor or engaged in listening to your grandfather tell stories of years gone by.

Carse, truth be told, could tell stories for hours because his career as a basketball coach has been one most only dream of. He's coached at all levels of the college game, including a stint at LSU when some guy named Shaquille O'Neal was playing for the Tigers.

He has given lectures on the game and has also taught it, both here in the United States and overseas. His time in the game has taken him across all four time zones in the country and he has worked in Europe, Australia and the Philippines.

One thing has remained constant in his 40 years in the business, a stretch that includes 26 years as a head coach.

"You have a board on the wall that's called a scoreboard," Carse said. "It's not a rebound board. It's not a defensive board, it's not a charge board or a turnover board. I'm not sure why people can't figure out how simple the game is. If you score more than the other team, you win."

Winning has been something Carse has done a lot of in his coaching career, which began in 1997. He won an NAIA national championship in 1987 when he was the head coach at West Virginia State. He was the lead recruiter at LSU between 1987 and 1994, helping the Tigers rise to No. 1 in the country at one point.

He won four conference tournaments and guided his team to four NCAA Division II tournament berths while at Montana State Billings,the job he held prior to arriving at Hardin-Simmons, where he has been for the last nine seasons.

His accomplishments are remarkable and he has won more than 400 games in his career.

"I've been all over the world," Carse said. "I've coached DI, II and III and NAIA. I've been in regional and national championships. I've worked in Hawaii and Alaska and a lot of different countries. I just think 'wow, what a wonderful experience for a D-III guy.'"

Carse will tell you he is a D-III guy at heart. Maybe that's because he played and coached at Bethany and because he has enjoyed so much success coaching the Cowboys, who are headed to the Sweet 16 this weekend to battle top-ranked and unbeaten Whitman at Marietta.

For Carse, the location of the tournament game is fitting because he grew up in neighboring West Virginia less than 20 minutes from Marietta.

And with this being his final go-round with the Cowboys -- he is retiring at the end of the season -- the chance to return to an area he knows all too well is special.

"I played games in Marietta. It's where my family went to shop and went to eat. I have a lot of memories," Carse said. "To go back there after being in this business for 40 years, and having gone to a D-III school myself, it's going to be a lot of fun."

He calls himself blessed for having the chance to coach in Marietta this weekend and notes he would be even more blessed if he was able to coach in Virginia next week at the Final Four in Salem.

Nathaniel Jack, the ASC West Player of the Year, leads the charge to keep his coach's career going.
Hardin-Simmons Athletics photo 

"I've coached in the Superdome and have coached against No. 1 teams and have been with a No. 1 team. I've had an exciting journey as a coach," Carse said. "To see everything that I've seen as a coach and come at the end of my career, I feel very blessed. I haven't been back in a few years. It's going to be nice to get back there."

Hardin-Simmons enters its game against Whitman with 24 wins and six losses. The win total is the highest in the D-III era of the program. The Cowboys are the ASC tournament champions and winners of nine consecutive games.

Their offense is high-powered, cranking out nearly 90 points per game, and the team is unselfish as well, dishing out an average of 17.2 assists per game. Six players are putting up 11 or more points per game, with Justin Jones leading the way at 18.8 points per outing.

The challenge of playing Whitman might be the biggest of the season. But not much changes.

"We will prepare like we always do this week," Carse said. "We're just going to focus on being ready to play our best basketball."

The approach doesn't surprise assistant head coach Derrick Jefferson, who is in his first season on the staff after graduating as one of the top players in program history.

"As a player, Coach Carse would always push you. Try and reach your potential are his words," Jefferson said. "A player could have one of his best games and Coach would tell you good job, but if you think that's your best game, you are wrong. As a player you would go home and wonder what you could have done better."

Carse wants more than just the best out of his players on the court. He has emphasized the importance of succeeding off the court as well no matter where he has been during his career.

"The word coach has a lot of depth to its meaning," Carse said. "It's a privilege to have an impact on the lives of your student-athletes. I still get calls from former players, even ones who are 60 years old now."

And whether he's talking about Shaq or Jones, he views every player he has coached the same way.

"I've been blessed to work with a lot of great athletes. Some are more famous than others, but they are all people. They all have the same heart and soul and spirit and love of the game."

Jefferson will tell you he has learned as much while coaching alongside Carse.

"You learn that it's more than about X's and O's," Jefferson said. "You have to know the player on and off the court. That way you can relate to each and every player differently. Coach also installs that we have one playbook (the Bible) and that we should live our lives for the big picture."

Carse laughs when he hears talk about how major college basketball players need stipends when he, like every other D-III coach in the nation, is coaching student-athletes who don't get scholarships but work equally as hard, and sometimes even harder.

"Here I have a guy like Justin Jones, one of the best shot blockers in the country, getting a 4.0, going to practice, playing games and working a job at night to pay for school," Carse said. "I love the kids we have at this level and I love the coaches at this level who aren't making millions of dollars but are beating out some of these higher-paid coaches in recruiting and winning games."

Carse has done more than his fair share of winning and he hopes to keep on winning this weekend. He wants this journey to last for as long as it can.

But the end will come soon enough, whether it's this weekend in Marietta or next weekend in Salem.

Either way, it's been a ride he will never forget. And while retirement awaits, he plans to stay involved in the game in some way.

"I've had some heart procedures done and I'll work on improving my health so that I can have the energy to carry on in the sport," Carse said. "I will not lose my involvement in the game. Basketball will always be a part of my life."