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  • Writer's pictureSean Savage

Cade Carroll's Journey To Crown College and Selflessness

Adversity can serve as an obstacle. For Cade Carroll, it provided a steppingstone for his basketball career.

Carroll's journey has been an atypical one: several family moves, transferring schools and colleges, dealing with mental health challenges while also being involved with volunteer work that included a trip to Africa.

His experiences playing for three different colleges have bolstered his love for basketball. Carroll says that he understands the value of every opportunity. Perhaps his thinking is best explained by early 20th century artist and book illustrator Florence Scovel Shinn: “Giving opens the way for receiving.”

"I stopped being so greedy for certain things and started to appreciate what I did have instead of things that I didn't," Carroll explained.

Carroll, a 6-foot-5 junior wing at Crown College in Minnesota, has been a key player for one of the program’s most successful seasons. He’s averaging 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as the Storm’s second-place finish in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference is the best in school history. The athletic program has dual affiliation with NCAA Division III and the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA).

Crown reached the UMAC conference championship game but came up short, losing a chance to play in the NCAA D-III tournament. However, the Storm will participate in the NCCAA DII Tournament as an at-large team.

Born in Lufkin, Texas, Carroll developed a burning passion for the game at an early age. At 18 months old, his grandfather handed him a mini basketball. Carroll started shooting free throws from a makeshift line he fashioned, and the first thing Carroll did was shoot free-throws one after another.

His passion for the game grew with his dad, Chris, by his side.

"I can see the entirety of his life flash before me,” Chris said of his son. “I am so very proud of who he is and who he is becoming. He is a beautiful basketball player and a better person."

Off the court, Cade is an avid cook. He taught himself when his mom, Karla, was hampered by a severe illness. Before he knew it, cooking became a hobby. "If I did not go to college to play basketball, I was headed to culinary school," he said.

The Carrolls moved from Texas to a small town in Colorado in 2010. For a youngster, change and a new environment can be challenging. Adding to the hassle of adjusting, Cade’s pursuit of basketball was the inconvenience of commuting for four years. To participate on a club team in Denver involved a 2.5-hour trip. Denver offered the closest competition and coaching. The travel eased when his mom took a job in Denver and he could live there with her to make the basketball schedule less taxing.

Carroll’s dedication to basketball meant sacrifices. As he reached high school, he missed many social events because of practices and traveling with his AAU team.

"I only went to one homecoming, and that was all because of basketball," he said.

Carroll’s knowledge of sacrifice was coupled with outside experiences that helped him grow as a person and as a basketball player.

Matt Barnett, Carroll’s AAU basketball coach, made a significant impact on Carroll, both on and off the court. "Cade has always been a driven player. My role was to teach him how to work out and become the player he wanted to be,” Barnett said. “He worked out with several NBA and overseas players athletes and that helped him learn their mental approach to the game."

In 2015, Carroll got a glimpse of the world from a new perspective. He and his family traveled to Tanzania with Young Life, a Christian ministry organization that works with young students. They helped build a house known as the NEEMA house – which translates to "grace." The house hosts mothers who have lost children and others have suffered similar tragedies. While working there, Carroll’s interaction with the community made an impact.

“There were some kids there when we were building the club room who were running around with plates tied onto sticks," he said. "They were pouring soda in the soda cap and drinking it so it would last longer because they do not often get that."

After returning home, Carroll became more selfless. He recognized there is always someone who would love to be in his shoes. The experience made Carroll appreciate what he had.

"When you are working with them [young people in impoverished communities] I do not think they realize the impact they are having on you," he said.

In 2019, Carroll took up another volunteer opportunity, working with the Special Olympics. Through that experience, he learned to have fun with the game of basketball. Playing competitively and getting recruited oftentimes accumulates high levels of stress. Witnessing the joy and happiness of the Special Olympic athletes helped him appreciate having fun playing the game.

Ironically, his joy of basketball was curtailed by injury that led to the biggest physical and mental challenge he had faced.

In the fall of 2019, Carroll broke his right foot. He had been experiencing pain and tried to push through before the break was discovered. The injury forced him to sit out the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

Coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in February 2020, he did not get a chance to prove himself as a player to Biola University in Southern California. He was a player on the team, transferring from Colorado State-Pueblo following his freshman year.

Dealing with his broken foot and, like millions of others, dealing with a pandemic, Carroll used those hardships as a source of motivation to improve his mental state. He wanted to come back stronger than he was before.

Following Carroll’s sophomore year at Biola, he transferred to Crown and is now a junior on the team. He credits the Storm’s regular-season success to team chemistry and the youth of the coaching staff.

"[Our] coaching staff is incredible," he said. "They’re younger guys, and I think that helps with the connection they’re able to make with us. The staff has a perfect balance between being light-hearted and serious."

Carroll says that graduate transfer Drew Burnett lightens up the mood with his spontaneous dance moves. He shares this attribute with another player, whose name Carroll opted not to divulge, who will "fall down at random points in the game." That lighthearted foolishness is balanced by the coaches pushing the players when it is time to get serious. Which, in turn, helps the players perform at their best.

"Cade has always been one of the best players on the floor,” said Barnett, who has kept track of Carroll’s season at Crown. “His work ethic and commitment to his off-the-court training have allowed him to become one of the best players in the league.”

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