Oliver Carr is a voyager.
The charismatic Carroll College Saint, one used to being the crux on the court, assimilated for three years at Carroll College. He welcomed challenges and transitioned from niche to niche, as the Saints asked him to be one thing, then another, then another. He, at the very least, knew his capabilities, developing depth of character off the court and building strong relationships with those around him. He knows he can ball. He’s knows he’s an accomplished musician. His career path of dentistry is in motion. He’s learned humility through providing oral health care to less fortunate African refugees.
Yet even with so many certainties, Carr is at a loss.
Less than a week removed from two foes ravaging his leg, a buckling that busted his right knee, he parses what practice means while hobbled.
Carr tore his ACL on Feb. 7. The Saints swapped licks with the Montana Western, thanks to Carr’s court presence and nimble finishing around the rim. One wrong movement on a rebound ended his season and threw the already-injured Saints into a funk.
With a practice jersey and shorts snug across his 6-foot-4 frame, he slinked alongside the baseline at the PE Center, not showing any signs a of a debilitating major ligament tear. His teammates shot around, lightly practicing, as he searched for his new role, hoping to lead from the sidelines.
“I’m going to go grab an ab board,” he explained, “although, I don’t really know why.” The futility of cardiovascular exercise when knee rehabilitation would soon sap his fitness left him questioning.
Carr’s life -- while easy to analogize as clichéd, straight-forward journey -- in actuality, is a series of complex journeys.
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As he lay on the court of the PE Center, the audible pop of his ACL worried him. The initial diagnosis left some room for optimism: Maybe his meniscus took the brunt of the damage. Cartilage that, while painful, could possibly have sustained a minor enough injury to let him get back on the court this season.
It was especially important for Carr to return for Carroll’s run. He was Carson Cunningham’s first recruit to Carroll College. The two outlined rebuilding a program that had fallen into despair, finishing a combined 11-44 the two seasons before the pair would join forces. This season, the Saints have a chance to win the Frontier Conference's regular-season crown and realize the dream they shared nearly three years ago, a journey in its own right.
“The more I learned about him, the more I liked him -- not just as a hardwood operator, but as a well-rounded, mature young man,” Cunningham said of the Bozeman product. “He did great in school, played music, had an old-school, rugged low block game with nice footwork, and he could move. His family was awesome. I thought, 'He seems like the kind of player we're looking for, the type of person upon which we can rebuild this thing.' Fortunately, he valued Carroll's great academics and embraced the idea of rebuilding, and he chose Carroll.”
Later that night, Carr rested in his dorm. The physical pain was tolerable; the mental anguish left him disappointed.
“I couldn’t help my teammates out, maybe just felt guilty for that,” Carr said. He slipped into sleep, waking at 8 a.m. to a concerning amount of pain, though he could still drive himself to the orthopedic center for testing. He awaited an MRI two hours later, and then a conversation from team physician John Michelotti.
By the nature of the talk, an in-office chat, Carr knew the damage was worse than expected. Good news could be delivered over the phone, he thought. Hard news required physical consultation.
Surprise fell over him when Michelotti told him his ACL had torn. It was a diagnosis Carr said had “almost been ruled out,” the night before. Mucking things up farther, Michelotti could not find traces of an ACL in Carr’s left knee, scheduling a second MRI a week later. Perplexed, Carr learned his left knee lacked an ACL, too.
Carr thought perhaps he damaged it in middle school, when he vaguely recalls tweaking his knee. All these years later, Carr and his doctor figure he’s just compensated with one ACL. Information fully in hand, Carr was equipped for his next journey: Surgery and rehab.
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March 3 will mark the beginning of that next step, as Carr undergoes surgery and then recuperates before diving into rehab. Leading to that point, he’s doing most of the exercises he did pre-injury.
“I’m able to do most everything except squat,” he said.
Along the way, his other pursuits and knowledge will accommodate him. After all, his band, O’Henry, digitally released their album “More Than Material” on Carr’s birthday, Feb. 3, through music platforms like iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud and Google Play. It’s recorded guitar complemented with electronic production, giving the music an alternative rock feel, Carr said.
Music, Carr said, gives him an outlet away from school and sports to focus time and energy. These are necessities when workloads and expectations swell in other areas.
“Oli has a huge heart, a strong faith, and a real passion for life,” Cunningham said. “He cares about others and has an ability to relate to people, to think of them. I think both of these things come at least in part from the fact that he comes from a remarkable, loving family. The Carrs are fantastic people.”
Cunningham and Carr’s relationship is unique. The two are bonded in many areas -- partly by the first-recruit dynamic, partly by passions for hoops, partly by intelligence on and off the court. Cunningham has seen the different facets of Carr up close, and one instance in particular stands out.
Carr’s first season, in 2014-15, the Saints had dropped a few games and were not in sync. Carr asked Cunningham to meet in his office.
“We were toiling through the rebuilding process, and I got worried that he was getting overly discouraged,” Cunningham said. “When he came to my office, I readied myself to talk about this. He looked at me and said, ‘Coach, I'm going to volunteer for hospice and I was wondering if I could put you down as a reference?’"
The voyager wished to converge on a new journey.
“Now, how cool is that -- here's a freshman college basketball player, in the thick of the grind, asking me if I can be reference for his application to volunteer at hospice,” Cunningham said. “It was quite moving.”
Aspects beyond basketball: That’s what brought Carr to campus and what continues to be his resolve. During the recruiting process, Carr recalls many Frontier schools inquiring and offering scholarships, and chances to play at Montana State, Colorado School of Mines and Minot State, among others. Carr knew he needed the best school for his route into dentistry.
“I thought Carroll is the best place to be in Montana as far as pre-medical stuff goes,” Carr said. “In the end, that was the best option for me. Also, I liked the coaching staff and it seemed like they had a plan looking forward to build the program. I was going to be a part of that process.”
It led to his freshman season, which culminated in him earning the conference's Freshman of the Year award.
“I had an amazing freshman year,” Carr said. “I was one of the centerpieces for sure as far as scoring points and having a large impact on the floor. That was an awesome experience. I had a ton of fun.”
* * *
Sophomore year went a bit differently.
Cunningham’s knack for finding recruits meant Carr wasn’t the same prized possession he had always been through high school up until his freshman year. Playing time waned, a mentally draining experience for a player who was used to big minutes. Carr confided in his father and Judd Brost and allowed his journey to take a new turn.
“I think those conversations allowed me to humble myself,” Carr said. “I was always used to getting all the glory, all the interviews, all the hype or however you want to say it. Having those conversations and realizing I was on a really good team and with really good guys and creating these good friendships was way more important than actually playing, I guess. Being a good teammate was obviously more important than being isolated and feeling bad about playing time.”
Plus, he had a “life-changing” trip upcoming. This past summer, Carr traveled to Nakivale, Uganda, with the Montana Dental Outreach team. He said the goal was to essentially establish a temporary clinic and provide basic oral healthcare for 10 days.
“I think it definitely made me look at my life and appreciate everything that I had like whether it be school or opportunities I have here for education,” Carr said. “It became motivation to study harder. I know in Uganda that the refugees don’t have schooling like I do. I appreciate my family. A lot of those refugees have been separated. Just analyzing my life and appreciating the little things that I have. It’s humbled me.”
He knows his next journey, too.
A typical rehabilitation from an ACL injury is six to nine months.
Carr, of course, is aiming for six.