SARANAC LAKE - When Steven Carder graduates from North Country Community College this spring, he'll be able to say he's well on the way to accomplishing his main goals. When came to the two-year college in Saranac Lake for academics and to play for the Saints basketball team, his biggest desire was to become a better student and a more mature person.
Carder will also be leaving NCCC with another achievement, one he didn't even consider when he came to the school as a student-athlete. On Saturday, Feb. 16 in a home game against Schenectady Community College, the sophomore center became the all-time leading scorer in the history of Saints' basketball.
And Carder, who will be continuing his studies and basketball career at a four-year school next fall, isn't done yet for the Saints. He'll be leading the Saints into action Friday at SUNY Delhi for the first round of the NJCAA Region III tournament.
Steven Carder takes time out from practice to pose for this photo at the North Country Community College gym on Thursday.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
The former standout player and graduate from Northeastern Clinton currently has 1,217 points, which is a new scoring record for both the NCCC men's and women's programs. The Saints have at least one more game left as they head into the NJCAA Region III playoffs. He set the record during a 40-point performance in NCCC's 80-71 setback against Schenectady.
Two years ago, Carder finished a high school career as a three-year starter on Cougars teams that captured two Champlain Valley Athletic Conference titles and two more Section VII championships. He then moved on to NCCC, and plans to play again, either at the collegiate Division I or III level. Hard work both on the court and in the classroom has helped provide Carder with such an opportunity.
"When I came out of high school, I didn't have stellar grades and I really wasn't a mature kid," Carder said at practice last week. "The big thing I wanted to accomplish was raise my GPA and my maturity level. Today, I'm confident my hard work has paid off."
Carder said that leaving home after high school to attend NCCC was the right move, and coach Chad LaDue and his Saints are certainly happy about the choice their big man in the paint made.
"When I visited North Country, and sat down with Chad and my family, I knew that night where I was going to college," Carder recalled. "When I started my first semester, I still wasn't really mature, but I realized pretty quickly, I had to put in the work. I couldn't just come to this school and play basketball. I've come a long way. My last two semesters have been the best.
"Obviously, I wanted to improve my game, but I just wanted to come here and be an asset to this team," Carder added. "I never thought about setting any records, but everything fell right into place. I'm so happy with my decision."
Carter, who said his parents Tim and Jill have played a big role in getting to this point, has a variety of options open when it comes to playing college hoops at the next level. He said about 20 schools, including Division I and III programs, have been in contact with him about next season. The gritty center, however, said he's not thinking about a destination until the current season ends.
"A lot of schools are interested in me, but right now, I want to give my teammates and coaches everything I have," Carder said. "We still have more basketball to play. I know this team has been to the postseason a lot under coach LaDue. Our goal is to get coach his first playoff win (in the regional finals)."
After a strong freshman season where he averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds per game, Carder said possible NCCC records started to enter his mind over the summer. Earlier this season, he easily surpassed the Saints previous career-rebound of 588 set by John Reid. He has collected 643 rebounds heading into Friday's playoff matchup.
"It's hard enough to get elite players to come here, and we were fortunate to land Steven," said LaDue, whose Saints have a 17-10 record along with a combined 3.1 GPA this year. "Obviously, he's meant an awful lot to our program, but I think the same could be said about the program benefitting him. It's been a win-win situation for Steven and Saints basketball.
"I think the academics at this school have rubbed off on him, and on the court, he just goes and gets it," LaDue added. "There are very few, if any players in this region who can guard him one-on-one. He's done a great job for us and we're not done yet."
Carder led Region III this season in scoring with a per-game average of 23.2 points in 26 starts, and also accuracy, hitting on 228 of his 274 field goals attempts for a 61-percent average. Those numbers also have him high up in the national rankings, where he stands fourth among NJCAA Division III teams in scoring. His average of 12.5 rebounds per game are fourth-best in the country.
Although Carder now owns the scoring and rebound records at NCCC, he credited the Saints coaching staff of LaDue, Rob Roy and Scott Mitchell, and his teammates for much of that success. And they all realize a monumental task awaits when they face Delhi, only because injuries and illness have plagued the Saints this season as three starters have been out of the lineup. Win or lose, Carder said his teammates will not quit until the final buzzer, and hopefully, they live to fight another day.
"On paper, we aren't the best team," Carder said. "But we aren't looking at what the other teams are doing. With this group of guys, there haven't been any disappointments. I don't think there is a team that fights as hard or works as hard as we do. We can't wait for the next game."