By David Fong
HILLSBORO, Kan. — Surrounded by wheat fields as far as the eye can see, Tabor College is the kind of place where going looking for trouble requires a couple tanks of gas — and trouble pretty much never comes looking for you.
“Let me put it this way — if people from here were to come to Troy, they’d think it was New York City,” Lance Carter said. “There’s nothing here but fields.”
Last summer, though, it finally became home for Carter, a Troy High School graduate and junior on the Tabor College men’s basketball team. It was the first summer Carter remained on campus as opposed to coming back home to Troy. And while one would be hard-pressed to consider Troy a bustling metropolis, it still offers far more distractions — and potential pitfalls — than the far-reaching Kansas plains.
“Usually I run home just as fast as I can,” Carter said. “This past summer, I stayed here and worked on my game. I also took a three-week basketball mission trip to Thailand — but outside of that, all I did was play basketball and work on my game. What else could I do but play basketball? There’s nothing else out here to do.”
Carter’s summer dedication is paying dividends this winter, both for himself and his team. He’s leading the team in scoring (19.5 points per game, up nearly seven points from his career average), rebounds (7.7 per game) and assists (5.5 per game). With Carter leading the way, the Blue Jays are 17-3 and ranked No. 11 in the nation in the latest NAIA Division II poll.
He credits all of his success to staying on campus.
“It was a big summer for me, both personally and in terms of getting in shape,” he said. “I really got in shape over the summer. It’s the first summer I’ve ever hung around here — it really helped me keep my focus on what I wanted to accomplish this season. If I had gone home this summer, I would have fallen back into the same old rut that I always did — just hanging out and being lazy.”
This isn’t the first time Carter has struck out on his own and made his own path, however. The fact that he’s even at an NAIA Division II college flies in the face of family tradition, as four of his older brothers were Division I college athletes, including two who went on to play professionally.
Butch Carter — who graduated from Middletown High School — played college basketball at Indiana University and spent five years playing in the NBA with the Lakers, Pacers, Knicks and 76ers. He also spent three years as head coach of the Toronto Raptors.
Brother Cris, also a Middletown graduate, played wide receiver at The Ohio State University before spending 16 years with the NFL’s Eagles, Vikings and Dolphins. He recently was inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame and is widely considered one of the greatest receivers in NFL history.
Brother Shane played football at the University of Wisconsin, while brother Alex played football at Bowling Green State University.
“You know, coming into it, every high school kid wants that Division I scholarship; they want that full ride,” Carter said. “But I think God put me in the place he knew I needed to be. I think he knew I needed to slow down. I think if I had gone to a Division I school, I would have got caught up in that fast life. I think God had a hand in that and in putting me where I needed to be.”
Things are falling into place for Carter off the basketball court, too. He’ll graduate in May with a degree in business administration. He’ll still have a year of eligibility left, so he plans on beginning work on his master’s degree while finishing his basketball career at Tabor.
After next season, he’ll explore playing professionally — possibly overseas — but if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll work as a graduate assistant with the team while finishing up his master’s degree.
“Everything is really working out for me right now,” he said. “I love it here now.”
Possibly because — as another former Kansas resident once pointed out — “there’s no place like home.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong