When I first met Eugene Carter, my first impression of him was that he reminded me so much of my grandfather; a kind and quiet gentleman. It’s been about a year now that I’ve known him, since I started using the facility I have for my basketball program – he’s been great, and such a gracious host to me and my students. Our relationship that started as just the occasional conversation here and there, I now make it a point to at least once a week sit down and have a nice chat with my good friend. Most times, sitting on the bleachers in a quiet basketball gym, we reminisce about the days we used to play hoops. I whip out my phone to show him footage of my playing days – and he of course looks at it with genuine interest. Eugene is from Newport, Kentucky – what us more northern Indiana folks would call the south, but it isn’t really too far; Newport is located just south of the Ohio, Kentucky border below Cincinnati. While I felt like I had a lot to share with him about hoops and the people I’ve played against, the more I started to listen to him speak about his experiences, I wanted to say less. That’s not a bad thing though – I’m more than happy to be quiet and listen to Eugene, he is truly a gem.
Standing at about 6’5”, Eugene is someone you look at and say – oh yeah, he was an athlete; he still has that feel about him. I learned that when he was growing up in the town of Newport, his family lived in as poor a situation as you could possibly imagine. With little to do and a basketball court just across the way from where he lived – he turned to hoops to keep himself occupied. On a dirt court, with rocks that seemed to place themselves wherever you wanted to bounce the ball – causing you to have to chase after it, Eugene developed his love for the game. The 8th grade was the first time he ever played organized ball, and as he puts it, “I was hard to handle! I had to play center, because I was taller than everybody else in my school – but most of the people I matched up against were taller than me. Boy could I leap though, I was already in the air while they were still winding up to jump. Allowed me to score and get a lot of rebounds.” It wasn’t long before he knew basketball was something that he was very good at, and could possibly be a way out of where he lived. He was absolutely right, over the course of his high school basketball career, Eugene posted numbers that would eventually place him into the Kentucky High school basketball Hall of Fame; Of course he had the opportunity to go on and play college ball too.
When Eugene speaks – there is a wealth of knowledge that flows, not of only about the game itself but of the people he has encountered. He says in a southern accent, “Cowens used to come by my house and wake me up in the morning to play ball”, and in my head I’m like, I know that last name but is that who he’s really talking about? So I say, “you mean, Dave Cowens?”, he says “oh yeah”. Later on he’s talking about something else and says, “that’s when Unseld and I started to get close”, and once again I ask out of curiosity, “Wes?”, he casually says, “Yes, uh huh”. As he continues to tell me story, after story about his experiences with even more basketball greats, I start to think – how many people in this world have done extraordinary things that hardly anyone knows about?
The most unassuming people have done some of the most amazing things in life – and have encountered extraordinary people. Often times we can be thrown by such humble spirits. They are the reason we should make every effort to be kind, and learn more about the people that enter into our lives – otherwise we would never know. They have something to share with us – and we have something to gain. We are more blessed by the wisdom of people like Eugene who are more than happy to share life stories with us; all we have to do is ask and we can walk away with something to apply to our own lives. So young people don’t ever be afraid to engage in conversation with someone you recognize as having a kind spirit. God has a way of putting us in a position to cross paths with someone that could tell us something that gives us a whole new perspective.