For Johnny Carpenter, the rise from University of Virginia student to Cavalier assistant men’s basketball coach – all before the age of 27 – started with something he and his twin brother, Mikey, lovingly refer to as “twintuition.”
Two weeks before arriving on Grounds, the Great Falls native wondered how he was going to find his place at UVA. Sports had always been a huge part of his life – he had been on the basketball, soccer, track and cross-country teams at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington, D.C. However, he wasn’t quite good enough to continue at UVA.
Exactly at that moment, Mikey started reminiscing about his experience as a student basketball manager for Johnny’s team.
“I was like, ‘Man, how cool would that be to do in college?’” Johnny Carpenter recalled. “Most people would think rebounding and wiping up sweat is lame, but I actually thought it could be cool.”
Wiping up that sweat – one of many not-so-glamorous managerial duties – has led to a career Carpenter never thought possible.
When No. 1 seed UVA begins play in the NCAA Tournament against Gardner-Webb University on Friday afternoon, Carpenter, now the team’s director of player personnel, will be on the Cavalier sideline, just a few feet away from head coach Tony Bennett, helping out however he can – just as he has for the better part of the last decade.
The smile that can usually be found on Carpenter’s face tells you all you need to know about his chosen profession.
“Coaching was always like a dream,” he said, “but I literally thought it was impossible to get into. I had no idea how to do it.”
Early in the 2009 fall semester, Carpenter – in his first week as a UVA student, with the conversation with his brother still fresh in his mind – spotted a sign-up table for aspiring student basketball managers while walking outside of the Observatory Hill Dining Hall and stopped to chat.
From there, Carpenter began communicating with former UVA basketball manager Tom Jonke and subsequently attended an informational session in the coaching offices at John Paul Jones Arena.
During that meeting, Bennett – who was just starting his first season as coach – popped in to introduce himself.
“He said managers are some of the most important people for a successful operation,” Carpenter said. “He said it’s a thankless job, but he was like, ‘You will be treated well and with respect.’”
Carpenter was sold.
“It was cool to hear about being a part of something bigger than yourself,” he said. “I loved that.”
Carpenter immersed himself in the position. He took particular pleasure in running shooting drills and rebounding for players like Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski. On road trips, his duties included making sure players stayed hydrated, nourished and went to bed on time.
A year later, Mikey, a year behind Johnny at UVA (their parents had separated them when they were young so they could have different life experiences) joined the fun.
“They were just both intense workers – hungry to help out and serve the program in any way,” Bennett recalled.
Johnny was especially eager to become a manager/walk-on player in the mold of current UVA student Grant Kersey, who, earlier this season, rose to stardom after being allowed to suit up.
“I was trying to be Grant Kersey before Grant Kersey,” said Carpenter, grinning. “I wasn’t quite good enough to crack those rosters, but I had fun helping out in practice on the scout team or wherever I could.”
In his third year, Carpenter, who majored in foreign affairs, realized he wanted to pursue basketball as a career.
“I started leaning toward coaching, because coaching is teaching,” he said. “You’re just using a different platform to teach kids about the big picture through a sport.”
During his last year at UVA, Carpenter applied for various operational positions and graduate assistant jobs around the country.
Eventually, former UVA women’s basketball coach Joanne Boyle got wind that Carpenter, who had won the Bob Goodman Award for service to the UVA athletics department, was looking to get into coaching. Boyle, who had a vacancy on her staff, hired him as a graduate assistant.
Right around that time, Carpenter had also learned from former women’s player Lexie Gerson about a master’s program at the Curry School in which he could do a concentration in intercollegiate athletics.
For Carpenter, it was a total win-win.
Read the full story at news.virginia.edu