The prodigal son of Newfoundland’s basketball culture, Carl English talks family, patriotism and unfinished business in a candid Herald interview
How do you cope with pressure? Do you crack, shut yourself in an introverted hole, or do you rise above and become your best self. Be the you and just do it like Nike taught ya’.
Yes, it takes a lifetime of learning and growing when it comes to dealing with pressure.
For Newfoundland’s golden son of basketball, Carl English, pressure seems to be the name of the game.
Many know his story. Overcoming tragic beginnings to become an all-star-like prospect, battling mismanagement and potential game-changing setbacks to rise to a world-elite level, playing across the globe and representing Canada on an international scale, English has come home to Newfoundland and Labrador to truly resurrect the sport of basketball to never-before-seen heights.
His return to St. John’s, leading the newly formed St. John’s Edge of the National Basketball League of Canada to a near Cinderella run to the playoffs, one complete with MVP titles and league accolades, was perfect. Almost perfect.
Sitting down in the Edge offices in downtown St. John’s, English reflects on the whirlwind 2017-18 season that saw him choose family and the ties of home over lucrative international contracts.
“To me, the hardest part of the whole thing was the decision to come back home,” English begins. “I had a checklist, and there were pros and cons. Everything I had on the pro section was kind of what happened. It was more, how is the support going to be? How am I going to play? It was all what ifs? Nothing concrete. With any decision like that I always try to take the money part out of it and look at it for all the reasons that it is. I was thinking, what can I do for basketball here? I have my agenda, it wasn’t hidden. I said look, I’m here to regrow basketball, to bring basketball back to where it was when I came through. That was a big part of my decision.
‘This is My Home’
“This is my home, every summer I’m back,” he adds passionately. “There was stuff going on with my brother and his transplant. There were a lot of things that were pulling me here. All the negatives were kind of what ifs as well. What if you play like s**t? What if there’s no fans? What if, what if, what if. My whole thing was, if I’m involved it’s not going to happen that way and if I’m involved it’s going to be better. All my what ifs were canceled by me and what I could bring to it.”
With anticipation of the inaugural Edge season already bubbling, the announcement that the provincial prodigal son would return dialed up excitement to a fever pitch. Fans were hungry and ready to latch onto a new chosen sport, and English would be the poster boy for the entire Edge franchise and the basketball resurgence in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I felt like I had the whole world on my shoulders in the small sense of where we were. That anticipation was building up,” he recalls. “It made for that surreal story that everyone was waiting for. Everyone was wondering, how’s it going to be? Is it going to be any good, what kind of level is it? That built and the buzz built and we just ran with it.”
And while performing on an elite level on the court was of paramount importance to the veteran, English set to leave his mark as much off of it as he would on. That starts with positively impacting the community, especially youth.
“I wanted to put my flair on it. We spent a lot of time in the community focusing on kids’ groups and schools and charities, things that I feel sport people should do. Not only what I feel, what I’ve been doing for 15 years. You spend a lot of time in the communities and I felt that’s our backbone and that is the backbone of any organization. I feel we’re on a pedestal where the kids look up to us, and I see that as more for me because I’m from here, I’m from a small town. I didn’t have a lot of the things they have now. If I can make it, why can’t you? That’s kind of the story that I’m preaching and I’m selling, but I’m also trying to get out to them and tell them I’m from where you’re from. There’s really no excuses. Put your head down, work hard and believe in what you have.”
English would lead the club to an impressive 25-15 record, good enough for second in the central division, earning them a playoff slot against in the division semifinals where they would sweep the Windsor Express in three straight games before falling to the eventual league champions London Lightning in six games. He’d capture the league’s Most Valuable Player and Canadian Player of the Year titles, while the Edge would earn the second highest league attendance in the entire NBL Canada organization.
‘Best Version of Me’
So when the time came to reassess his professional future, the 37-year-old had much to debate.
“The biggest decision for me to come back wasn’t on the basketball standpoint, it was my family, my kids, my wife, my brothers and my immediate family,” he says. “I left Newfoundland when I was 16 years old and I spent over half of my life away.”
English recalls spending a season divided between Spain and Germany, a year where family time was sparse, at best.
“It was very difficult on me being away,” he admits. “You’re helpless a lot of times and it was like this is not what it is for me anymore. We made a family decision that where I go this year we were going to go together. Deep down I figured the kids would have another year home with their friends, school, with their programs, and it was tough to uproot them right now.
“I’m at an age where if a certain team came around I was going, because that’s the competitive person that I am. The highest level, I’m there, but if it’s the medium level it’s like do I want to do this again? Because it’s very demanding in Europe. Yes the money is great but it’s demanding. You’re working for what you’re getting. When the option came here it was intriguing, but the what ifs were holding me back and keeping me from signing and it was really complex. This could be it, if things don’t go well it’s like who is he? I’ve been gone for so long and people follow you, but if I’m going to do it I want to be the best version of me, that’s just who I am.
“I’ve had so many people follow me for so long, this is a great opportunity and I felt I could do more than basketball in the community and the things I could do just for Newfoundland,” he adds, inspired. “That took a big part of it. I took the basketball out of it, put my family into it and put in the community stuff that I could do and bring and that was very rewarding. In the basketball sense it’s always rewarding. You go and play well and it’s great, you win it’s great. I took that out of the decision and said look at the other things I can do and the people I can touch, look at being with family here first hand and set my roots really down and see what happens.”
With attention both on a front office role, while firmly thrusting himself head-on into the 2018-19 playing season, Carl English has unfinished business with the St. John’s Edge. The final games of the playoffs are a ghost he can’t shake at this point, something he wishes to exorcise with a league title in his home province.
“Now comes the second year where there’s unfinished business,” he says. “My goal was to bring a championship here and we lost. It’s easy for the guy from Ontario to go home, the guy from the states to go home, but for me, no, I am home. When I lost here it hurt me a lot more because this is my home. They go home and they forget about it, it’s not the same as me walking around in it every day. People going around seeing you and saying it was a great year. Yes it was a great year but it wasn’t a great year because we lost.
“That’s where this year comes into effect, that we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation if we had to win because then you came, you conquered, boom, done. Who knows how next year will go, but that’s my ultimate goal. It’s always been the sense, even when I played for Team Canada, that I represented Newfoundland and then Canada. I was always that guy. I was always pushing Newfoundland, telling them how beautiful it is and how nice the people are. Now, the same thing, we get in the league and we’re still the east coast, still the island, but now I want to show people that now we’re going to kick the s**t out of you.”
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