Basketball was never exactly important at University. There were a handful of appearances in the FHSAA playoffs before last season, although nothing ever lasted more than two or three games. Before Vernon Carey Jr.’s junior season, the Sharks had won a grand total of eight playoff games in their history.
In one season — and largely because of one player — everything changed. University began the 2017-18 campaign ranked outside just about every national preseason top 25, but the Sharks just wouldn’t stop winning. Led by Carey Jr., University opened the year with a 17-game winning streak, including a championship at the highly competitive City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers. When the postseason arrived, the Sharks were a consensus top five team and ready to rip off eight straight postseason wins for the University’s first ever state title.
“We should build a statue to him in front of our arena,” Sharks coach Jim Carr said earlier this week. “He’s established us as a national program. ... For us, he’s a truly generational player.”
This weekend, the Miami Hurricanes will have their biggest chance yet to pitch the No. 2 center in the Class of 2019. Carey Jr. begins the fourth of his five official visits Friday in Coral Gables and will spend the weekend with the one school which can offer a truly unique pitch.
The Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, Kentucky Wildcats and Michigan State Spartans can all offer something Miami can’t — those are four of the most storied programs in the sport’s history, with Hall of Fame coaches and an expectation to at least reach the Final Four every season. But the Hurricanes can offer something those four national-championship programs can’t — a chance to stand alone in a program’s history and potentially lead Miami to heights it has never achieved.
“Out of the last five schools he has, everybody’s a great program. Four Hall of Fame coaches and his hometown school,” Carr said, “but at Miami he’s truly a program-changer.”
Even before he became one of the most sought-after basketball prospects in the country, Carey Jr. was inextricably tied to the Hurricanes. Vernon Carey, the prospect’s father, was an All-American offensive lineman for Miami in the early 2000s after playing in high school at Northwestern. LaTavia Carey, the former All-American’s wife and then-girlfriend, gave birth to Carey Jr. in 2001, when Carey was playing for the Hurricanes. Even after Carey graduated, he then joined the Miami Dolphins, with whom he spent his entire eight-year NFL career. The Dolphins training facility still shares a Davie campus with University.
Carr took over as the Sharks’ coach before last season, just as the recruiting attention around Carey was really starting to come to a head. Recruiting websites vaulted Carey Jr. up into their top fives and Rivals.com still has him as the top player in the nation. The 247Sports.com composite rankings only has him at No. 2.
By just about any metric, Carey Jr.’s junior season established him as one of the most accomplished basketball players in South Florida history. He guided University to its first state championship and brought the Sharks to the brink of a national championship before a 76-58 loss to Montverde Academy at Geico Nationals. The Miami Herald named him the Broward County Boys Basketball 6A-1A Player of the Year after Carey Jr. averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game.
“He was just becoming the No. 1 player in the country,” Carr said, “so I wasn’t splitting the atom. I wasn’t inventing anything.”
With the Hurricanes, Carey Jr. would have another way to add to the family’s legacy in the Miami metropolitan area. The Hurricanes have only had five All-Americans in their history and only one since 2000. They’ve only had two players even earn first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors since Miami moved from the Big East in 2004. The Hurricanes’ deepest postseason runs are three trips to the Sweet Sixteen in 2000, 2013 and 2016.
The Hurricanes’ resume can’t compete with those of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State. Instead, Miami offers Carey Jr. a chance to take the Hurricanes to the next level.
“Continue with the legacy and leave your own legacy,” Carr said the pitch has been. “The University of Miami’s meant a lot to the Carey family. Vernon had a great career there and the way Vernon Sr. is looked on in this area, the respect people have for him, the respect people have for the work he does with his foundation, there’s so much good will toward that, and coach [Jim] Larranaga and [assistant coach Chris] Caputo have worked as hard as anybody in this process.”