It was opening day of the college basketball season, and the coach at Northfield Mount Hermon prep school had a dilemma. He wanted to turn on the television and watch some of his former players on their college teams, but which channel?
So many NMH products out there last Friday, so little time.
"We’ve got guys in 19 different colleges that are playing today," John Carroll said over the phone. So it must be a labor of love, keeping up with them all. "It’s not a labor of anything. It’s what I like to do."
Here’s one legacy from a prep school in the hills of Massachusetts: More than 60 Division I basketball players produced. Eleven this year alone in the Ivy League, according to Carroll. "If Northfield Mount Hermon was its own state,’’ he said, ``it’d be the third most represented state in the Ivy League behind Texas and California."
Here’s another legacy: The place produces team leaders like Nabisco produces Oreos. Consider what the NMH class of 2012 – who won 29 games and the New England prep school Class AAA championship as seniors – is up to this season.
Spike Albrecht, a captain of his Michigan team. You might remember him as the freshman sub with a 2.2 scoring average who exploded for 17 points against Louisville in the 2013 national championship game.
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Tommy Carpenter, captain of his Dartmouth team.
Evan Cummins, captain of his Harvard team.
Ethan O’Day, captain of his Vermont team.
"One of our goals here is to have each player become the best version of themselves, and very few things put a stamp on that like being a captain in college," Carroll said.
And these four?
"Spike is still filled with humility, still easily accessible. He plays every basketball game like he’s playing in his backyard. Evan was determined and focused and he’s still all those things. Tommy was very considerate with both sides of an argument and could really negotiate relationships, and he’s still doing that. Ethan led by example, letting his hard work speak for itself, and he’s still doing that. They’re similar now to who they were; they’re just really, really good at it now."
Four captains from one class are extraordinary. But Carroll mentioned the 2010 national championship runner-up team. It produced six captains. They set examples for the class of 2012. That class set examples for the next wave. And so it goes at NMH.
All those captains out there now, they understand. Take Cummins from Harvard.
"I think it’s definitely a combination. That year we had a pretty special group of guys, a lot of selfless guys who played together. But a ton of credit also goes to John Carroll and the program he’s built. He takes pride in preparing us for college and what it take to be successful, especially as a leader.’’
Or O’ Day at Vermont.
"All of us were a little different. Coach Carroll would always tell us to lead in our own way, whether that was by example, or being a vocal leader. Something I remember him always saying was, just remember the guys who wore our jerseys before us."
Or Carpenter at Dartmouth, trying to explain playing on a team with that much leadership in the locker room.
"We all kind of had our own way of doing things. The best way I could describe it was, it was easy. Everyone bought into what we were doing. Nobody had to step out of themselves. There was always a right example. If you were struggling with something, there was always someone you could look at that was doing it right.’’
Or Albrecht at Michigan.
"I tell people to this day that I played on a Final Four team, an Elite Eight team. I’ve played on some really good (college) teams. But that was my favorite team I’ve ever played on. We weren’t the most talented team. Look at us on paper, we weren’t anything special. But we went out and played hard together and had great team chemistry.’’
They had all come from hither and yon, leaving family and friends behind, to test themselves at a prep school with 660 kids from 47 countries and 30 states. NMH threw them together, so no wonder the relationships established are so strong. The four captains still keep tabs on one another, from a connection established once upon a time.
Cummins: "We’re constantly in contact, making sure everyone’s doing well."
O’Day: "I’m friends with those guys for life, even though we played only for one or two years together."
Albrecht: "It’s hard not to form a bond at a place like Northfield. It’s a whole different world, just you and your teammates.’’
Carpenter: "I don’t foresee any of them leaving my life anytime."
That includes the coach. It was Albrecht who mentioned how "Coach Carroll was one of the few people that really believed in me. When I was out at Northfield, I remember he and I having a conversation; we couldn’t get a single Division I school to offer me. He was just in awe, he couldn’t figure it out. He was one of the few guys who I always knew was in my corner."
And so on the night of April 8, 2013, John Carroll sat down in his living room as Michigan (with Albrecht) played Louisville, whose roster included an injured Mike Marra, another NMH product.
"I never watch games alone, but that year I wanted to watch that game alone. I didn’t want to get interrupted. I just wanted to take a moment to watch my guys," Carroll said. Albrecht started burying one 3-pointer after another, in a a performance the Final Four never saw coming. Louisville won, but Albrecht became a Michigan folk hero that night.
"I can remember it like it was yesterday," Carroll said. "I’m not a guy who talks to the television, and I’m screaming at the television. My wife came running in and said, `What is going on in here?’
I really couldn’t believe what I was watching. All the things Spike had dreamt of were happening for him at that moment."
The bonds are reinforced each spring at Northfield, with the Batty Roundball Classic, named after former NMH coach Bill Batty. The alums flock back to Massachusetts by the score and play in a tournament. The campus is filled with memories, not to mention former and present players of every college division.
"I think I have two Batty championships," O’Day said. "I’m proud of those."
Carroll forms the teams, trying to make them as balanced as possible.
"Probably the most competitive pickup basketball that I’ve ever played," Carpenter said. ``He makes it pretty even. Except for his team is usually a little bit more loaded than everyone else."
John Carroll, class of 1989, averaged 27 points a game for NMH, before going on to hit 342 3-pointers for Assumption College. His analysis of his own game in his late 40s: ``I can’t guard anyone but I can still shoot it. I think I’ll be shooting into my 80s.’’
So the Northfield pipeline is alive and well, and there are a battalion of college players out there this season who can prove it. The road from prep school can lead to some pretty special places. Cummins, for instance. Not many men can say they were captain at Harvard.
"It’s an absolute honor," he said. "It’s something I’ve been taking really seriously."
Of course, he does. He’s from Northfield Mount Hermon.