Now out of the shadows, Michael Carey is legitimate NEC Player of the Year contender for a Wagner team projected near top of conference. (Photo by Bob Dea/Blackbirds Hoops Journal)
By Jonathan Reyes (@werdynerdy)
- Michael Carey, Wagner Seahawks senior guard, on what legacy he wants to leave behind as a player
TO BE CONSIDERED FAMILY, TRUST
Wagner head coach Bashir Mason called Michael Carey on the phone during his recruitment to see if he’d fit the team’s brand. That identity he was looking for is synonymous with Mason’s play as a former Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year at Drexel as a freshman in 2003-04, just that: Defense. And it’s not only play on the court he keys in on, it’s how you conduct yourself off it around people on a daily basis and, of course, your teammates.
The thought behind it is simple: “Attitude next play.” What that phrase means is all the minute parts of the game that don’t appear on the back of a player card. It’s defensive deflections, offensive rebounds, taking charges, diving on the floor and assists. Also, it’s coupling the physical with the mental side of not becoming overly caught up in either a positive or negative way and moving on.
With all this in mind, Carey sold Mason on adding him to the roster by saying the following: “If I trust you, I’ll run through a wall for you. And if I don’t know why I’m running through a wall, I’m going to keep running until you tell me to stop.” After hearing that, Mason knew in that very moment Carey was the kind of player he wanted and one he’d like to coach because of the level of seriousness he gave off.
“Mike has probably been one of the most important recruits that we’ve been able to land,” Mason said.” We knew we needed him as a player, but more importantly, we knew we needed him as a person with his maturity on how he goes about his day-to-day business. Outside of his stats, he’s probably one of the best kids that we’ve ever had come through the program, and it’s carrying over on the court. He puts work into his game because of how serious he is about it.”
When Carey was asked about what he meant by what he told Mason and why, Carey said it was to let Mason know that the team is his family. Back home in Nassau, Bahamas, he always protected anyone under the umbrella of that word. He even compared himself to an offensive lineman in football, the player whose job it is to protect the quarterback, in this case Mason and his fellow Seahawks.
“They’re my home,” Carey added. “I’m always in the office, whether we go at it on the court or have a disagreement. I’m trying to figure it out and pick his brain, because he makes the calls and I’m supposed to be one of the guys who's going to help us win.”
“I take that seriously knowing that he has the trust in me, with his job on the line, to give me the ball and be like, ‘Yo, go make a decision.’ My trust is in him telling me to go do it, so I do it every day.”
STRIVING TO BE MORE THAN AN UNDERDOG
Ever since Carey can remember, he’s been an underdog. It started when he arrived in the United States at 13 years old. Then, it was at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, where it hadn’t made a National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Championship appearance in ten years. The 2014-15 season, Carey’s sophomore year, changed that for the San Jacs when Carey helped lead them to a 28-6 record and a chance at the title.
For his junior campaign, Carey transferred from San Jacinto to Wagner, another program that was yet to push past what it had already accomplished. In Mason’s three years, before Carey came along for his fourth, his Seahawks couldn’t crack 20 wins. In 2012-13, they won 19 games; in 2013-14, 19 again; and 2014-15, 10. When Carey joined in 2015-16, Wagner won 20 games, and earned the first-ever postseason win in school history by defeating St. Bonaventure in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament.
“It’s hard not to [elevate your game] when you’ve got someone like Bashir Mason,” Carey said of why he chose to continue his journey from the Bahamas and San Jacinto to Wagner. “People undermine what he does. He coaches me harder than when I first got here. He said, ‘When I get on you for something that this other guy did, you know why, it’s because you have a certain level of seriousness about you and aspect from other guys. So I can’t coach you how I coach other guys.’ I know where he’s coming from, I understand him. That’s why we click so much as a player and coach. It’s all him, him and God, literally. He’s a motivator. Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali had their guys in the corner, Mike Carey has Bashir Mason.”
When Carey walked over for an interview during Wagner’s “Madness Before Midnight,” the music was blaring and the crowd was cheering loudly as the Seahawks participated in a three-point and dunk contest. Words spoken by anyone were all but inaudible. Carey is soft-spoken and mild-mannered, but what he said that night had a lasting impression. He said he doesn’t become excited for many things, meanwhile his teammates were crawling out of their skin itching for the season to start right then and there.
How he carries himself, Carey said, goes back to when he was growing up in the Bahamas looking to make his way to the U.S., a place he actually calls “the land of milk and honey.” To him, it’s no cliché because of how much harder he had to work to earn his welcome and eventual stay.
“You know how great you have it. You don’t how important we take it when we come here. You can’t blame me. You can’t, especially with what I’ve been through,” Carey said about his humble beginnings and being unexcitable. “You can’t get excited. You have to stay even-keel, professionals will tell you that too. You can’t get overexcited because it doesn’t mean anything and doesn’t win games. You can’t take anything for granted.”