There was no singular instance in which Rodrick Harrison knew this particular player could be special.
In fact, with Robert Carpenter, there were a handful of such moments.
There was the time they first met, prior to Carpenter’s 12th grade year, when the 6-foot-7 forward told his coach that he badly wanted to be a Division I basketball player, no matter the level.
“I worked him out a few times and saw that drive in him,” Harrison recalled. “I told him his landing spot would be up to him.”
There was that first year at well-known Mount Zion Prep in Lanham, Maryland, when Carpenter started on a team that featured six Division I players and earned that starting nod over a four-star recruit teammate.
“That tells you the type of work ethic he has and how much I believed in him from the beginning,” Harrison noted.
Then, there was last winter, when Carpenter was having an uncharacteristically rough night amid a fantastic prep season at Mount Zion in which he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds and led the Warriors to a 28-4 record and the Elite 8 of the National Prep School Championship.
“I PULLED him aside and said, ‘this is what we’ve been looking forward to for the last few years,’” his coach recalled. “‘It’s no time to be shy; now it’s time to show the world who you are.’ Ever since I told him that, he started stepping on the gas more, he started working mismatches, doing things I knew he could do all along.”
Four months later, after attracting the attention of multiple high-major programs, he reached the goal he’d set as an undergrad, signing at St. Bonaventure with the same enthusiasm he’d once displayed in Harrison’s office, where he peppered his coach with one question after another about what it would take to reach this point.
CARPENTER IS currently one of five members of the Bonnies’ 2019 recruiting class, having officially joined in early May, and as intriguing as any of his fellow prospects.
The long, versatile forward starred at Cornerstone High in his native Detroit before joining Harrison and the Warriors for his senior season. He managed to stand out in one of the most talent-rich areas on the East Coast, earning Mid-Atlantic First Team All-Conference honors following his exclamatory prep campaign over the winter.
He’s what so many Mark Schmidt recruits have come to be: Blue-collar, but skilled; capable of playing multiple positions; a winner.
Carpenter arrived at Bona earlier this summer as a touted prospect, a player who held offers from a handful of other Atlantic 10 programs, someone seemingly capable of contributing sooner rather than later.
And yet, simultaneously, he appears to still be scratching the surface of his talent.
“He always wants to know how he can get better,” Harrison said. “We’ll look at film after games … he wants to know, ‘what should I have done better in that position’ or ‘what do I need to do if I’m faced with that again?’
“He’s always looking for that next step; how can I become a better player tomorrow? He’s a great kid, hard-working; (Bona fans) will love him. He fits the culture. He’s not a rah-rah guy; he’s quiet, but he’s very effective.”
How effective was he with the Warriors?
THE PLAYER that Harrison described as a “hard hat and boots-type guy” also happened to go for 40-plus points on four occasions last season. It was the next in a long line of moments that told Harrison: this kid has “it.”
“That’s when it became a reality to me,” said Harrison, who starred at UMBC in the late 1990s. “To be able to score 40 points at our level … it’s a big accomplishment because sometimes you’re on the floor with 10 Division I guys.”
He added: “He actually had 40 in front of (West Virginia coach) Bob Huggins, who was there watching another kid play. Bob said, ‘if I was looking for a kid like him, he would have a scholarship right now.’”
When asked to describe the kind of player the Bonnies are getting in Carpenter, the Mount Zion boss provided a number of interesting nuggets.
Defensively: “He brings that type of mentality where he wants to guard people. He doesn’t like to be scored on. He rebounds the ball, he can guard probably the one through five, so he’ll definitely be a great asset (on that end).”
Offensively: “Rob shoots the ball extremely well; he’s an extreme athlete. He’s one of those kids you look at and think his head wouldn’t be at the rim, but it can be. He has the ability against guys bigger to … step out, take them off the dribble or shoot over top of them.”
And similar to other Bona recruits in recent seasons, he had options, the temptation of the supposedly “bigger-time.”
THE DETROIT product visited the likes of Temple, La Salle and UMass. Texas, Harrison said, called about him. Just days before committing to Bona, Wichita State reached out about his availability.
In the end, the Bonnies were the best fit.
“He’s like an analog kid trapped in a digital world,” Harrison said. “I think the small environment with the success that the program has had and the idea that he can go somewhere and feel like he can contribute right away — those were the things that played a big part.
“For him it was, ‘I don’t need the big, 20,000 fans in the building, I want to go somewhere where I can better, and this is the place. That swayed him a lot. I think he fell in love with the fact that it was a small environment, but successful, and that’s what put him over the top.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)