There was no such animal as a recruitnik in 1966. But if they had existed, the saga of Austin Carr's journey to Notre Dame would have had them in a frenzy.
Carr was a product of the "D.C. Pipeline", a parade of players from the nation's capitol who played their college ball for the Fighting Irish. That pipeline resulted from Irish coach Johnny Dee's Coast Guard friendship with Frannie Collins, a D.C. resident whose finger was on the pulse of high school hoops. He knew the advantages of a Notre Dame education for an inner-city youth, and had Carr and his classmates, Collis Jones and Sid Catlett, ready to sign with the Irish.
But then North Carolina and Dean Smith got involved.
"Austin's dad was from North Carolina," Collins recalled years later, "and I think he always wanted Austin to at least take a look at them. It was getting close to signing time, and I got a call from Austin's dad saying Dean Smith was going to come over that night to talk."
Collins jumped in the car and drove to Carr's house. "Pack some clothes," he told the future Hall-of-Famer, "you're coming with me." He raced over to Jones' house, leaving Carr there for an overnight and instructing Jones' father, Jimmy, to pull all the phone lines out of every bedroom.
Collins' quick thinking was Notre Dame's windfall, netting the Fighting Irish their greatest hoops player ever. Carr's legacy is rote to every Irish hoops fan, and his name still permeates both the Notre Dame and NCAA record books. With his on-court acumen and Johnny Dee's salesmanship, Notre Dame basketball, which had wilted a little in the waning years of John Jordan's tenure, became a hot item on campus once again.
"Everyone came out to watch us practice," then-freshman coach John Tracy said. "We'd scrimmage the varsity, and there'd be almost as many people there as for the games. Everyone knew about Austin and what he could do, and they couldn't wait to see him do it."
And saw him they did. Dee and assistant coach Gene Sullivan created the "double-stack offense", which used high-post picks to get open shots for the wings, to take advantage of Carr's skills. In the stack, scoring records fell in a seemingly endless progression, with Carr breaking his own high-water marks almost as soon as he'd set them. He remains Notre Dame's career leader in every points-per-game scoring statistic. He has more 30-, 40-, and 50-point games in a single season and a career than anyone else in Notre Dame history. His 61 points against the Ohio Bobcats in 1970 may never be equaled.
But he'd trade every one of those records for the post-season success he missed.
"We all went there to try and start a basketball tradition – Collis and Sid and Jackie [Meehan] and Tom Sinnott and I," he 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."
On Thursday night, when the Fighting Irish put their 34-game home win streak on the line against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame will once again honor Carr. Having already named him to its All-Century team in 2005, this time they will acknowledge his induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame this past November.
On-court accolades, though, have not been the primary driver in the life of the man the late Jim Hinga described as, "the greatest human being I've ever met." More important to him has been what he accomplished off the court, learning the value of a quality education, and using that knowledge to help others. He was the key in Dee's "Reach Up" program, which brought Irish players into contact with South Bend's poorer community to show them they could improve their lives. Carr remains active with NBA charities, including the Cleveland Cavaliers "Read to Achieve" program, which aims to improve the literacy of America's youth.
"Everybody has got the dream of going to the next level, and they don't want to do the academic part of it," he said. "Granted, when I first went there, I wasn't a great student. But by the time I left there I could hold my own. Notre Dame taught me I had to not just focus on basketball, but also on the other parts of life. There's life after basketball, and I would do it again because it taught me to prepare for life after the game."