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Despite an appearance in the NCAA tournament and having some teammates that would eventually play in the NBA, Will Carlton knew what he wanted most.
"Playing time. I was the second forward off the bench," Carlton says of his days backing up Keith Van Horn at the University of Utah. "I just wanted more playing time."
So, in the fall of 1996, the Anderson County native got his release from head coach Rick Majerus and headed home. Almost home, that is.
Carlton landed in Georgetown, about 30 miles from home, where he led the Tigers to the 1998 NAIA national championship and became arguably the finest big man to ever wear the orange and black. Carlton scored 2,197 points and pulled down 1,170 rebounds in his career and equaled a school record when he scored 51 points against Ohio Southern in the 1997-98 season.
Saturday, Carlton will be inducted into the Georgetown College Hall of Fame for his individual efforts and will also go into the Hall with his teammates that captured the school's only national basketball title.
Carlton's accomplishments at Georgetown, an NAIA power, are legendary. The 6-foot-8 center turned his increased playing time into being a 3-time NAIA All-American and 3-time All Mid-South Conference performer. He was twice named the MSC's player of the year and was selected as the NAIA Player of the Year in 1998 by Basketball Times.
In addition to his 51-point outburst, Carlton put up 49 on Miami-Hamilton in 1999-2000 for third place on the list, and is in the school's top 10 in both scoring and rebounding.
"When I got to Georgetown, I wanted to win the whole thing," he said.
It had appeared for sometime that his destiny would be to finish second. At Anderson County High School, he put the Bearcats on his shoulders and carried them to the Eighth Region championship game in 1995 where they dropped a heart-breaker to Scott County.
At Anderson, Carlton was a first-team All-State selection and helped lead the Kentucky All-Stars to win over Indiana in the Summer series. He is Anderson's all-time leading rebounder and in the top 5 in scoring.
In his one season at Utah, Carlton and his teammates advanced to the third round of the NCAA tourney but ran into the Kentucky Wildcat team he grew up cheering for.
Carlton became a bit of a statewide celebrity in the days leading up to that showdown and even today gets some ribbing about a mid-air collision that saw him taking out Kentucky's Derek Anderson, giving the Big Blue Nation a collective coronary.
"That's my claim to fame," Carlton deadpans.
But with Georgetown coach Happy Osborne assembling a team heavily comprised of Division I transfers, the Tigers defeated Southern Nazarene for the championship.
That 1997-98 Georgetown team went 37-2 and had many believing the Tigers could have competed with many NCAA Division I schools. "I think we could have won the OVC," Carlton says. "I know they would not play us."
However, Georgetown never had the success of Carlton's sophomore year again. The Tigers were upset in the second round of the NAIA tourney in 1999 and lost to Life College in the 2000 final.
"I know I thought they would have had 2 or 3 (titles) by now," he says. "There is so much luck involved."
Now, Carlton is a math teacher and head boys' golf coach at Anderson County High School, where he has been working for 3 years. He had coached basketball for two seasons but gave it up last year to spend more time with his year-old daughter, Katherine Belle, whom he has said will be Miss Basketball and Miss Golf in 2025.
"This is a very humbling honor," he says. "I am not sure I belong with some of the all-time greats at Georgetown.
"You had Kenny Davis and he was the captain of the Olympic team (in 1972)."
While Carlton looks as if he could still roughhouse under the basket, he says golf is his game now. "The only thing I dunk now is donuts," he quips.