TROY — You can’t honor someone who isn’t there.
Someone who hasn’t been there.
Someone who won’t be there.
Someone who, quite honestly, many would just as soon forget was there to begin with.
Next month, during a Feb. 6 match-up against Tippecanoe at Hobart Arena, the Troy boys basketball team will celebrate its 100th anniversary season. Former players and coaches for both the boys and girls teams have been invited and will be recognized during the game.
One of the greatest players in Trojan history almost certainly won’t be there — which is either a shame or a welcome relief, depending on who you ask.
Fifteen years ago, Alejandro “Bimbo” Carmona — then known simply as Alex Carmona — arrived in Troy under mysterious circumstances, to say the least. He was a transfer student from Puerto Rico who was living with a host family in Troy, but very little was known about his background.
Eventually, sketchy reports would emerge that his father was locked away in a Puerto Rican prison, his mother had spent some time in and out of mental hospitals, and Carmona had essentially raised himself on the streets — and the crumbling basketball courts — of the roughest parts of the island nation.
What wasn’t a mystery, however, was Carmona’s ability on the basketball court. The 6-foot-5 sophomore would soon begin practicing with the Troy High School basketball team upon his arrival, and word of the basketball phenom quickly spread throughout the community. Just a year removed from the graduation of Brooks Hall — the undisputed greatest player in Troy history — many believed Carmona, with his incredible athleticism and incredible thunder dunks, would supplant Hall as the greatest of all time.
Still, though, few knew what to make of this phenom seemingly showing up in Troy out of nowhere … including the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Thinking there must be some sort of impropriety or malfeasance involved, the OHSAA initially declared him ineligible, forcing Carmona to miss the first half of his sophomore season.
Unable to find a reason not to let Carmona play, however, he was declared eligible midway through his sophomore season in 2000 and immediately became the talk of the Dayton area, averaging 23 points and nine rebounds per game.
Although he had less than half a season’s worth of work on his resume, Carmona quickly became one of the hottest college prospects in the Midwest. That summer, rumor — truthfully, seemingly everything about the superstar was founded at least in part on rumor or innuendo — had it that Carmona outplayed Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary prodigy LeBron James (yes, that LeBron James) at an AAU event.
“He was a beast,” said former Troy assistant coach Gary Wheeler, who was an assistant under former head coach Barry Egan at the time. “He was absolutely incredible. He had the great inside game, but then when he learned that outside shot, he was pretty much unstoppable. If you didn’t get out on him, he would hit the 3. If you did get out on him, he’d drive right by you. And he was a tremendous defender. As good as he was on offense, I think people were even more impressed with his defense.”
As Carmona’s legend grew, however, so too did the whispers surrounding his arrival in Troy. Although never actually proven, many began to speculate he had been placed in Troy solely for the purpose of developing into a college superstar. Many figured he was, quite simply, a basketball mercenary putting in his time in Troy before moving on and leading a college team deep into a March Madness run.
After all, how often is it that basketball phenoms seemingly fall from the sky?
Carmona seemingly remained largely unaffected by the controversy swirling around him, however. A fun-loving kid with a quick wit and a brilliant smile off the court, he continued to play with a true passion for the game on the court. His junior year — without the spectre of an OHSAA investigation hanging over his head — Carmona put together what is, statistically, the greatest individual performance in school history.
He would score 596 points and average 27.09 points per game in that 2000-01 season, both of which remain school records to this day. He also pulled down 293 rebounds that year, the third-highest single-season total in school history. In one game that season, he scored 40 points (second-highest in school history), while pulling down 23 rebounds (third-most in school history) in another.
It was a 23-game tour de force for Carmona, who seemed poised to cement himself as the greatest player in school history going into his senior year. Rather than his coming out party, however, that season would essentially serve as his going away party.
Following his junior season at Troy, Carmona would never again play basketball full-time within the United States.
Things were happening fast in Carmona’s life by that juncture. Early on, he was committed to play for John Calipari at Memphis in a recruiting class that at one point included future NBA star Amar’e Stoudemire, who would eventually skip college to enter the NBA Draft.
At this point, an already cloudy story gets even murkier.
That summer, Carmona would move out of the house belonging to the host family with which he had been living. Carmona, who was 18 at the time, would appeal to the OHSAA to play his senior season as an “emancipated student” living on his own.
At that point, however, the OHSAA had seemingly had just about enough, and he was initially declared ineligible for his senior season. A number of people in Troy took up the fight for Carmona in an attempt to get his eligibility restored. While all of this was going on, Carmona announced he would no longer be attending Memphis, but would instead be playing college basketball at the University of Dayton.
Soon after, the fight to restore Carmona’s eligibility ended — in large part because Carmona soon withdrew from Troy High School and returned to his native Puerto Rico. The last time anyone in Troy saw Carmona, he was boarding a plane for Puerto Rico alongside his Puerto Rican mentor, Edgar Padilla, who had been instrumental in getting Carmona to the United States.
The fact Padilla had once played for Calipari at the University of Massachusetts only served to fuel the rumors — again, none of which have ever been definitively proven — that Carmona had been brought to Troy solely to groom him to become a college basketball player.
From there, speculation continued to swirl around Carmona, even after his departure. Allegedly, he had signed on to play at an East Coast prep school before enrolling in college, but that never materialized. Many people in Troy, meanwhile, looked to wash their hands of the whole Carmona affair.
By then, Troy had gained the reputation — fair or unfair — as a school that had recruited Carmona to play basketball for the Trojans. Accusations that he had been specifically placed at Troy continued to be levied even after his departure. Following what would have been Carmona’s senior year in 2002, Egan’s contract was not renewed. The reasons were undisclosed.
After a brief series of public hearings, Egan would leave Troy and continue his coaching career elsewhere. Like Carmona, he would never return to Troy.
In 2004, with future Division I college athletes Matt Terwilliger, Mike Hall and Shane Carter leading the way, the Trojans would set a school record for wins in a season, going 21-2 while earning a top 10 state honor. Just as quickly as Carmona had arrived on the scene, his memory would fade away for many Trojan fans.
While his career at Troy has been over for nearly 15 years, Carmona continues to play basketball. In 2002, he was named Rookie of the Year for the National Superior Basketball League of Puerto Rico. In 2005, he was invited to the Detroit Pistons pre-season camp and was later allocated to the Fort Worth Flyers of the NBDL.
He would return to Puerto Rico soon after, and would eventually play professionally in his home country, Spain and Mexico. While in Mexico, he once scored 49 points in a game, which remains a league record. He became a member of the Puerto Rican national team in 2006, winning a gold medal at the Central American and Carribean Games and a silver medal at the 2007 Pan-American Games.
The United States finished fifth — three places behind Carmona and Puerto Rico — at those same games.
“I have no doubts Alex had NBA talent,” Wheeler said. “Things just never worked out for him.”
Controversy still seems to find Carmona, however. Last year, he was suspended for 10 games in Puerto Rico after testing positive for marijuana, according to Puerto Rican media reports. By in large, though, Carmona — now 32 — is a success. He’s averaging 17.8 points and 6.9 points per game, and is receiving strong consideration for league MVP honors in his native land. His professional basketball career has stretched longer than any former player in Troy history.
Of course, he’s doing it largely out of the eyes of the fans who once watched him for those magical 18 months at Troy — save maybe for those who happen to be big fans of Puerto Rican basketball.
It’s unlikely he’ll be there in a few weeks when Troy honors its former players.
Instead, he’ll likely remain just as big of a mystery as he was when he arrived 15 years ago.
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong