Just call him The Man - every opponent did.
A remarkable forty years have passed with sharpshooters taking aim at his records. No one has come close. Austin Carr was fluid, smooth, a pure shooter with deadly aim and an almost impossible matchup as a 6’4", 200 pound guard. He moved well without the ball, could take a defender under the basket with the endurance to play an entire game. His shot seemed effortless.
"When Austin was on—which was most of the time—he was a shooting machine. I could tell the minute Austin released the ball whether I could turn around and run back, I knew his stroke so well." said Jackie Meehan, his point guard. (from Michael Coffey's, Echoes on the Hardwood)
Carr nightly faced box and one or triangle and two defenses, specifically aimed to stop him, in an era when an independent basketball Notre Dame played national powerhouses weekly - UCLA (twice a year), Kentucky, Marquette, Indiana, West Virginia, Illinois, South Carolina, Villanova, and Houston. During his senior year, Carr poured in 50 points in a 99-92 victory over No. 8 Kentucky in Louisville. "We put five different players on Carr tonight, and he still scored 50 points," said Kentucky’s legendary coach Adolph Rupp. "It was an amazing performance."
That year Irish also almost defeated #2 Marquette in a very close contest. Then came the top-ranked UCLA Bruins to South Bend, riding a forty-nine game winning streak against non-conference opponents and winners of six of the last seven national championships. The raucous crowd made the new ACC sound like the snug confines of the old Fieldhouse. "The UCLA game … was just off the charts," Carr said. "The student body was unbelievable."
The Irish got the first bucket, never trailed and controlled the game most of the way. Carr scored 46 points in Notre Dame's win over No. 1-ranked UCLA, 89-82—the most points anyone ever scored against a John Wooden-coached team. Austin had two steals leading to breakaway layups in the final minutes.
According to Carr, "Coach John Wooden always played a man-to-man defense, which I liked. Four different players guarded me during that game and the final opponent was Sidney Wicks, who was an All-American and future star in the NBA. In the closing minutes I took him to the basket and had a layup that clinched the game. I remember him looking at Wooden and saying, ‘I told you not to put me on him!’" Carr scored 15 of the team's last 17 points in a 17-of-30 shooting barrage from the floor and 12-of-16 from the foul line. Irish students lifted him up to cut down the nets.
John Wooden said of Carr, who he saw twice a year for three years, ""There is no one to compare with him man-to-man."
Comparisons to Today's Scorers
This year's leading scorer in the nation, Jimmer Fredette, has had three games over 40 points, but only would have had one if he played lacking the three point shot as Carr did. "With that short three-point line in college, that's a lay-up. I would have loved to have played with that line," said Carr. In comparison, Austin scored over 40 points 23 times in 2 1/2 years (without the three point shot), over 50 points nine times, and had 58 straight games scoring over 20 points.
Converting Fredette's threes to two points, Jimmer would have averaged 24.1 ppg.
Austin Carr averaged 38.1 points his junior year and 37.9 points his senior year against a schedule that was dotted with perennial powerhouses. Carr’s three year NCAA career scoring average is 34.6 points per game, second in the record books only to Pete Maravich’s 44.2. Carr shot better than 50% for his career—54 percent for his final 58 games, 10 percent higher than Pistol Pete's shooting percentage.
Luke Harangody's 2476 points in his Irish career came in 129 games. Austin scored 2,560 points scored in three seasons (freshmen were ineligible at the time) spanning 74 games - 55 games less than Luke. Carr played a little more than half of his sophomore season due to a broken foot.
Austin Carr's NCAA Tournament Records
As March Madness approaches, each year we realize once how Austin Carr much greater he became in the NCAA Tournament. His records include:
- Most Points in One Game – 61 versus Ohio, 1970 (The closest anyone has come since then is David Robinson’s 50 points in 1987)
- Top Two Highest Scoring Averages for a Tournament – 52.7 points per game, 1970 and 41.7 points per game, 1971 (minimum three games).
- All-Time Career Tournament Scoring Average – 41.3 over seven games (Bill Bradley is second, 33.7 over nine games. Oscar Robertson’s 32.4 is third, over ten games.)
- Three of the top five scoring games in NCAA Tournament history – 61 (Ohio), 52 (Kentucky), 52 (TCU).
- Five of the top 12 scoring games in NCAA Tournament history (No other player appears more than once in that top 12 list, including Bill Bradley, Oscar Robertson, David Robertson and Elvin Hayes). link
- Most Field Goals Made in a Game – 25 (Ohio, 1970), and three of the top six (with Bill Bradley, David Robinson, and Oscar Robertson holding the other three games)
- Most Field Goals Attempted – 44 (Ohio, 1970)
Carr's record 61 points in 1970 came against an Ohio team that had beaten Ohio State, Purdue and Indiana. Observers from that Ohio game have analyzed the game and estimated that, with today’s three point line, Austin would have scored 70-75 points!! When asked in his post game press conference how to stop Carr, Ohio University Coach Jim Snyder said simply, "Deflate the ball."
In spite of a Notre Dame exit after three games in 1970, Carr was chosen as the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Has anyone else done that?
Coming to Notre Dame - The Fieldhouse 1967
A Washington, D.C.legend from his playground and Mackin High Schools days and a Parade All-American, Carr came to Notre Dame in 1967, part of the best recruiting class in Irish basketball history.
Collis Jones (St. John’s) and Sid Catlett, Jr. (DeMatha) came with Carr from D.C. Jackie Meehan, Tom Sinnott, Jim Hinga and Big John Pleick joined the DC three in arguably the best Notre Dame basketball recruiting class ever.
Then, football was king. The Irish had won the national championship the year before Carr arrived. "We all went there to try and start a basketball tradition—Collis and Sid and Jackie [Meehan] and Tom Sinnott and I," Carr said. "And it seems that we were successful in doing what we came there to do, except win a championship. I'd give up all the scoring I did to win a championship." (from: Echoes on the Hardwood)
On Friday nights, students streamed into one end of Notre Dame’s Fieldhouse, built in 1898, for the football Pep Rally. Ara Parseghian and the Irish Guard led the team up wooden stairs to a wooden balcony while the Band played the Fight Song, reverberating off the walls and ceiling. Students would stomp up a cloud of dust from the dirt floor and cheered so loudly that the old building would sway.
The opposite end of the Fieldhouse contained Notre Dame’s basketball court where home games were played on a raised basketball floor, surrounded by students in an area resembling an old airplane hanger.
Notre Dame had more students, who got in free, than the Fieldhouse’s capacity (6,000). The Irish crowds made the most of the echoes, shouting and waving white handkerchiefs behind the visitors’ backboard. The noise could get deafening.
The Varsity squad went to the NIT that year, finishing third and ranked in top 25. Carr’s freshmen squad, however, had beaten that Varsity seven out of eight times in practice. Notre Dame needed a modern venue that would attract prospects and would be filled to capacity to watch an exciting Irish basketball team. Austin Carr and his fellow freshmen were to supply that excitement.
The next year, the echoes of the Fieldhouse with its Pep Rallies, Austin’s swishes and Sid Catlett bouncing medicine balls off the backboards in darkened practices became part of Irish lore. The now sophomores - Carr, Catlett, Meehan, Jones and company - joined the Varsity, opening the new basketball facilities of the Athletic and Convocation Center (ACC) against Wooden’s UCLA, featuring Lew Alcindor. Students quickly renamed it the Austin Carr Coliseum.
What Matters Most
Giving up all his records for a national championship is just a part of who Austin is. When asked if he was a Bill Bradley fan, Austin responded, "Oh, yeah. They played the game the way I was taught to play it—as a team. I loved watching him." Both extremely talented players saw themselves as part of a team effort.
Notre Dame became part of Austin and he valued the lessons he learned off the court: "Notre Dame certainly prepared me for life after college because it is such a national school with all nationalities represented. My experience at Notre Dame taught me to be responsible, but also to take pride in who and what you are. At Notre Dame I was around so many people who strove for greatness. When you are around successful people, it carries over to your own work ethic and self esteem." (link)
Carr and the other Notre Dame basketball players were involved in a community outreach program in South Bend called Operation Reach. This targeted children at risk of becoming involved in violence by mentoring them.
"It gave us an opportunity to get involved with the community. We did a lot of things with little kids. We had basketball clinics at the different locations. It was a good situation—something that really stuck with me." (from Coffey's Echoes of the Hardwood)
That commitment to community and to the less fortunate is evidenced in Carr's involvment in community work in Cleveland, Washington, D.C. and an annual fund-raising tournament at Notre Dame.
Ring of Honor
Returning once again to Notre Dame, being honored with retiring his jersey, and naming the first floor concourse of the former ACC after him last weekend was humbling to Austin, who felt he owed so much to Notre Dame. "This is my home. This is where I grew up. It's so much a part of my life. It's meant so much to me." In his interview about the honor, Carr sounded like Fr. Hesburgh and Fr. Joyce, who met with each player when they came to Notre Dame and said that here you are a student first, an athlete second. Carr stressed the value of a college degree.
Carr has had many well-deserved honors. Street and Smith chose Carr as the 19th best college basketball player all-time of their Top 100, and fourth among pure guards. ESPN chose Carr as the 22nd best collegiate player of all time. CBS chose Austin Carr on their First Team All-Tournament Team with other legends Oscar Robertson, Bill Bradley, Bill Walton, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley (Jerry West, Glen Rice, and Gail Goodrich were chosen Second Team guards). Carr was in the second class chosen into College Basketball's Hall of Fame.
Yet Notre Dame's honor truly touched him.
"I'm sort of at a loss for words because all I did was play basketball. To me, it's just hard for me to have the opportunity to have other young men who come to this school look at me in that light," he said. "I guess that's what I'm trying to say — this will be an honor that I will always cherish, and I will live up to it until my dying days." This past weekend Notre Dame made another place on its campus for a true Notre Dame man, who made everyone around him and his community better.
"I guess we did put basketball on the map." We thank you for all you have given us, Austin, and for being a part of us.
Michael Coffey's Echoes of the Hardwood - an excellent book on the history of Notre Dame basketball
"An Irish Carr Moves Into High Gear", Sports Illlustrated on 1971 Notre Dame-UCLA game