STORY BY CHIP CIRILLO | PHOTO BY WHITNEY JARRELD
Even on one of the worst, if not the worst, days of his life, Tre Carlton thought of others first.
“It’s not all about yourself,” Carlton said of his decision to play that day nearly two months ago. “It’s more about them. In a day, we all have a goal to reach and we’re all trying to reach it at once.”
So he played, although no one would have blamed the Centennial point guard if he didn’t.
Earlier in the day, Dec. 14, Carlton lost his 21-year old brother, Drez, in a fatal shooting.
The former Centennial track and field athlete was shot at a home behind Spring Hill High School, Spring Hill Home Page reported.
About nine hours later, Centennial upset Franklin 63-61 when Carlton’s longtime buddy, Dusty Williams, hit a mid-range jumper at the buzzer.
As of Thursday, it was first-place Franklin’s only District 11-AAA loss.
“I’ve never seen a kid be so distraught and hurt and just torn down, which any kid would be,” Cougars coach Peter Froedden said. “But for him to play the way he played for his team and for his brother that night was really inspiring for anybody to see that.”
Carlton scored 14 points that night at Franklin, playing well on both ends of the court, which is his trademark.
“It’s just something I’ll always remember how he handled that and how our kids handled him and that situation that night,” Froedden said.
A little time has gone by, but Carlton’s pain is still raw.
“I don’t think there’s a day goes by he doesn’t think about it or isn’t impacted by it,” Froedden said. “They’re a pretty special family.”
Franklin coach Darrin Joines didn’t find out about Drez’s passing until after the game.
“That’s just a horrible thing for Tre, obviously,” Joines said. “That game probably gave him a little peace for the time being. I’ve got a lot of respect for that kid for even trying to play. I’m sure that was something he and his family talked about and to perform the way he did says a lot about him.”
Joines said it may have been one of the best defensive games he’s ever seen a player have.
“I don’t know many kids that would have played in that game that night after what he went through that day, so he clearly cares about his teammates, carrying a heavy burden in other areas as well,” Ravenwood coach Patrick Whitlock said. “That’s a really good story.”
As inspiring as his performance was, Carlton has managed to keep things in perspective.
“Yea, it was terrible,” Carlton said of that day. “I mean, the win was important, but life is more important than basketball.”
And what kind of guy was his older brother?
“He was a very fun, outgoing person,” said the soft-spoken Tre.
Carlton reached the 1,000-point milestone during a win over Ensworth on Jan. 18. The 5-foot-10 junior is averaging 14 points and 4.7 assists per game.
“He is as determined a player to get something done as anybody I’ve coached,” Froedden said. “If he puts his mind to something, he can make it happen. I don’t think I’ve ever coached anybody that’s more competitive than he is and that’s kind of what makes him so good.”
Carlton has led the Cougars (18-9, 11-4) among the best teams in the district standings despite the loss of 6-4 post Asharri Haynesworth, who transferred to the Rebels in November.
“He’s stepped into more of a distributor (role) and getting everybody the ball, making sure everybody eats before he eats,” Cougars forward Isaac Craker said. “That’s what coach likes to say. When we need a bucket, we can get it from him, but also he knows when to give up the ball and he’s a great teammate all-around.”
Carlton and Williams (13.5 ppg), a junior Battle Ground Academy transfer, form one of the best guard combos in Williamson County.
“We’ve been playing together since, like, sixth or seventh grade,” Carlton said. “We met during AAU and we just started playing together.”
This season, Carlton changed his uniform number from five to 0, the same number as his favorite NBA player, Oklahoma point guard Russell Westbrook.
“He’s explosive and he’s not all about himself,” Carlton said of Westbrook. “He’s trying to get his team involved and get his, too, all at once.”
Carlton likes to attack the basket, knowing the defense will probably collapse on him. If he can’t get a good shot, he tries to kick the ball out to an open teammate.
He made a quick impact at Centennial, scoring a career-high 28 points against Dickson County during his freshman year.
“He is easily one of the top three players in the district,” Whitlock said. “You can look at their box scores sometimes and he might not score a lot of points, but he definitely helped them win a game. So he’s a matchup nightmare, but he’s also a kid that from the outside looking in appears to be about winning.”
Froedden is an ideal coach for Carlton since he was also a point guard during his playing days at Lipscomb University and Houston County.
“He understands it at a level most people don’t understand,” Carlton said. “He knows how to show you and he knows how to play the game, not just teach it. He knows how to do both.”
Froedden said Carlton needs to work on improving his shooting percentage, ball-handling, decision-making and being vocal to take his game to a higher level.
“He’s been a special player in our district since he was a freshman,” Froedden said.
Joines has been coaching against Carlton for three years and kidded that’s three too many.
“Really, he’s one of the best point guards that I’ve seen throughout my career because he can do so many things,” Joines said. “He doesn’t just impact the game on one end of the floor and he’s a great defender, too. I’m going to bet in the last four or five minutes of the game his shooting percentage is higher than his average.”