Perhaps the most remarkable basketball court in North America is on Route 100, a ribbon of two-lane highway that runs along the coast of Newfoundland. Not near Route 100. On Route 100. The hoop, outside Betty McGrath's house in Patrick's Cove (pop. 35), stands on the gravelly shoulder of the road. The stanchion consists of two wooden poles with a fishing net stretched taut between them to prevent basketballs from rolling into the soggy ditch that fronts the modest four-bedroom house. Attached to the weathered backboard is a spring-action rim, nothing like the bicycle rims that Carl English, the 22-year-old nephew of Betty and her late husband, Junior, once hung there. A dab of white paint before the middle stripe of the highway marks the free throw line.
As a youngster Carl would practice shooting when it was calm outside and work on ball handling—and later dunking—when the wind howled. ( Newfoundland can be quaint or forbidding, sometimes on the same day.) Carl would hear cars coming around the blind curve and skip to safety. Eventually locals learned to ease around the corner because the boy was always there, even in winter, wearing cotton fisherman's gloves, going one-on-one against the elements. No one ever had to tell Carl to play in traffic.
The McGraths could get only two TV channels in their home, and sports viewing was more or less confined to Hockey Night in Canada. In its basketball worldliness the Newfoundland of 1990 might as well have been New Caledonia. But Junior and Betty's sons would bring home tapes of NBA games from Ontario, and Carl would study crossovers and jab steps and shake-and-bakes from unwitting professors such as Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins. Carl English, the road player, quickly became a street player.
He became so skilled that eventually he was invited to trade islands: Newfoundland for Hawaii. English traveled 5,800 miles and 6� time zones from the hoop in Patrick's Cove to the raucous arena of the Rainbow Warriors. He's now the most dynamic player in the Western Athletic Conference, a 6'5" junior guard who at week's end was averaging a league-high 20.9 points per game for Hawaii, a 13-5 team that could squeeze into the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
English creates offense with a blur of a first step and flings three-pointers from unconscionable distances. He hit a career-high eight treys and scored 28 points in Hawaii's 73-67 overtime victory against Tulsa last Saturday, extending the Rainbow Warriors' winning streak at home to 24. English also flicks step-back jumpers with a rotation he perfected in bed by shooting a ball off the ceiling.
Like Newfoundland, English blows hot and cold. In an incandescent 38 seconds on Jan. 25 at Nevada he scored off an inbounds play, drew a charge, drove for a three-point play, got a moving-pick call with some deft acting...and then didn't take a shot for 12 minutes. In the classroom, however, he's more consistent. English, who redshirted as a freshman because of an ankle injury, has a 3.28 grade point average in sports management He is taking 18 credits this semester in order to graduate on time, in four years.
That's the remarkable story of Carl English. The damn thing is, it isn't the half of it.
In his 15th-floor dorm room English can, if he chooses to take his eyes off textbooks or the TV, look out the window and see downtown Honolulu and a sliver of ocean beyond Waikiki. His bedroom has the usual college clutter of baseball caps, sneakers, junk food and electronics. The only surprise is a stack of photo albums.
English riffles through them, pointing to a snapshot that is singed in one corner. It's of a smiling man with a thick black beard, and an attractive woman, both of whom appear to be about 30. The photo was removed from the charred remains of Kevin and Lavinia English's house, which caught fire on Good Friday in 1986. The fire may have been caused by Kevin's mistakenly using boat fuel rather than oil in the stove.
Peter, the oldest of Kevin and Lavinia's five sons, was 11 at the time and had gone downstairs for a drink. Seeing flames engulfing the stove, he raced out of the house, but he heard his mother screaming, "The kids, the kids!" Peter ran back inside and rescued the two youngest boys: Carl, 4, and Michael, 2. Eight-year-old Bradley jumped through a second-floor window and landed in the yard unhurt, and six-year-old Kevin Jr., the middle son, also escaped somehow. Kevin Sr. and Lavinia got out but suffered severe burns.