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English lessons - Tragedies give Hawaii players perspective
HONOLULU -- As a child, Carl English made the best of what he had, using lumber, paint and a donated rim to build a basketball court on the only paved road in his tiny hometown in eastern Canada.
Years later, and nearly halfway around the world, the days and nights spent on that makeshift court are paying off as English has emerged as one of Hawaii's best all-around players.
The 6-foot-5 sophomore is averaging 14.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists for the Rainbow Warriors. He also has guided the team to a 21-4 record, its best in 30 years.
As low-key and pleasant as English is in person, he's a fierce and intense competitor on the court. Some might thinks he's a bit brash and flamboyant with his constantly changing hairdo and the large tattoo on his left shoulder that reads "The sky's the limit."
"I'm two different people," he said. "I'm a friendly, nice, easygoing guy, but when I'm out there (on the court), everyone's my enemy."
Coach Riley Wallace said English has improved faster than he anticipated.
"He has no fear of the game," Wallace said. "He'll take the ball over anybody, no matter what the situation is in the game. He's a fearless player."
Dealing with death
English said his blue-collar work ethic and desire to succeed comes from his upbringing in the fishing community of Patrick's Cove, Newfoundland.
And the loss of his parents.
They died in a house fire when English was 5, and he and his four brothers were raised by relatives. English lived with his aunt and uncle, Junior and Betty McGrath.
English suffered another loss two years ago when he returned to Canada for the summer after his redshirt year. During a fishing trip, his uncle had a heart attack and died in English's arms.
"Every time I go out, I play like it's my last time out there," he said. "I realize anything can happen because of the tragedies in my life.
"When things are going wrong, basketball's my escape route to relax," he added. "Some people use drugs, I use basketball."
English has overcome his challenges and proven a lot of people wrong, especially those who didn't believe in him, said Gordon Pike, his high school coach at Fatima Academy.
Pike said the tragedies made English tough.
"I don't think he'll encounter anything as difficult as that," he said. "The rest of it is just a game."
These days, English is focusing on basketball with dreams of being the first player from his province to make it to the NBA.
"You're thrown into situations and you always have to make the best of them no matter what they are," English said. "When things happen, you've got to bounce back and overcome those obstacles.
"I don't want someone to take pity for what I've been through. I just want to be treated as fair and equal as anyone else."
A lifelong process
English said he thinks about his uncle, who never got to see him play at Hawaii, and his parents all the time. Healing will be a lifelong process, he said.
"I know they're watching, so that's the main thing," he said softly.
English came off the bench every game last season while struggling for points and playing time, but blossomed in the Western Athletic Conference tournament.
His 44 points in three games, including 25 in the championship, led Hawaii to the WAC title and its third appearance in the NCAA tournament. His performance earned him WAC tournament MVP honors.
"When he got his chance, he proved what he can do and he's had the chance ever since," Wallace said.
English leads Hawaii in minutes played and ranks second in team scoring and assists. He's third on the team in rebounds.
English was recruited by assistant coach Scott Rigot, who also recruited forward Phil Martin out of Ontario the same year.
Martin and English, who knew each other before coming to Hawaii, are roommates as well as close friends.
English is fueled by his past, even though he "hurts sometimes," Martin said.
English takes out his deep pain, anger and frustration on the basketball court, just as he did when he was a child.
"In the game, he's confident and intense," Martin said. "He just wants to go, go, go. We just want to feed off that energy."