Derek Redd: Ineligibility shock over, Canty ready for 2013-14
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The feelings flowing through Kareem Canty this July likely are the same he felt this time last year - anticipation and excitement for the start of the Marshall men's basketball season.
What will be different - vastly different - will be his feelings after this season begins. He should feel the joy of being the proud owner of an official Thundering Herd roster spot. It won't be the despair of learning at the last minute that his college career was on hold.
After last year's very unwelcome surprise of NCAA ineligibility, Canty is ready to put that year behind him and finally don a Marshall uniform.
"Last year was shocking," the 6-foot-1 Harlem, N.Y. point guard said. "It was the worst news I could ever hear. Knowing I can go into training camp and not worry about it is the best thing ever."
Marshall Coach Tom Herrion admits that sometimes, when an athlete arrives, it's known from the start that he'll likely sit a year as an academic casualty. Yet that wasn't the case for Canty. The Herd figured from the beginning that he'd be good to go and an instant contender for the starting point guard job.
Then came the surprise that Canty wouldn't play in the Herd's first exhibition game of last season as Marshall worked with the NCAA to iron out eligibility issues. He attended two schools the year before he came to Marshall - starting at Westwind Prep in Phoenix, before transferring after Christmas to Faith Baptist Christian in Brandon, Fla. He also played for Bridgton Academy in Maine and Bishop Loughlin Memorial High in Brooklyn.
Canty's wait extended into the first two games of the regular season and the surprise became shock when, the day before Marshall's third regular-season game, the NCAA ruled him ineligible for the season.
The announcement stunned the team and leveled Canty. Considered one of the top point guard prospects of that year, if he wasn't the starter, he'd be an integral player off the bench. He was able to keep his scholarship but, as an academic non-qualifier, he lost the ability to practice with the team.
So he spent the 2012-13 season in college hoops purgatory - on campus and in the classroom because of his basketball skills, but barred from showing them in an official Marshall practice or game.
"It was really hard," he said. "I was getting my mind ready for the season. Once I was told I couldn't play, at first, I thought maybe they'd change their minds later down the line. But once I knew I really couldn't play, it was hard for me to even keep working out. But I found the motivation."
That motivation came from his love of the sport. It came from the desire to take care of his family. And it came from his refusal to let an NCAA ruling derail his dreams. So when practice wasn't in session, Canty was on the court draining jump shots and running drills with fellow academic non-qualifier Ryan Taylor.
Some kids, in the face of adversity, will shy away. They'll shut down in the depression of a future on pause. Canty pushed forward. If he couldn't play right away, he'd leave no doubt that he'd be ready for the day those barriers fell.
"For that to be taken away from him at that point, he handled it really well," Herrion said. "He and Taylor, from the people that were able to work with those guys day in and day out last year, they worked harder than any guys who have sat out, under the rules.
"They've invested more time than anyone we've had before," Herrion added. "That says a lot about their character and how they approached that sit-out season."
Canty said that, as much as he worked on becoming a better point guard in that year on the sideline, he worked just as hard at improving as a leader. And with four of five starters from last season gone via graduation or transfer, there's a leadership void he can fill.
But Canty added that, even with so many new faces on the Herd roster, getting the team to mesh hasn't been tough.
"It's been easier that what people would think," he said. "People aren't coming in here with the mindset of just wanting to take over. People are coming in and just jelling, becoming more of a family and everyone is just working with more team chemistry."
Team. Canty can use that word now and call himself part of Marshall's team with no qualifiers. No roadblocks. No hurdles. And for him, nothing feels finer.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.