HUNTINGTON – Kareem Canty’s education in Division I college basketball has been quick, on the fly and not always easy.
The Marshall freshman coveted the role of focal point in the Thundering Herd’s game plan. He got it almost immediately. And while he’s won his share of honors in his first season on the court, he hasn’t won a ton of games.
“That hasn’t been easy at all,” Canty said. “Like I’ve said plenty of times, I’ve never lost this much in my life. Coming to practice, ticked off, not sleeping at night, that doesn’t help me, either.”
Not all of Canty’s growth as a college basketball player has come through Xs and Os. He’s also learning how to better handle the bad times in order to help lead the Herd into more good times. That journey continues Thursday when Marshall (9-17, 3-8 Conference USA) hosts the University of Alabama at Birmingham at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Canty hoped the rocky start to his college career – he came to Marshall in 2012 as a highly regarded prep player but was forced at the last minute to sit out last season as an academic non-q ualifier – would end once he put on a Herd uniform. No such luck.
His individual stats are stellar. He’s fifth in C-USA with 16.2 points per game, third with 5.88 assists per game and was named conference freshman of the week three straight weeks in December. Yet the Harlem, N.Y., native knows point guards are measured by wins, and that’s where the Herd as struggled this year.
And Canty has struggled at times to deal with that.
“He’s got to learn not to wear his emotions on his sleeve,” Marshall coach Tom Herrion said. “He’s harder on himself than any of us are on him. Sometimes his body language exhibits that. We’ve talked about that a lot. That’s part of his growth. When it comes down to it, guys lean on him. He’s got to be our catalyst.”
Canty has tried to stay positive, and said that coaches and teammates have been a great help in erasing negativity.
“I’m not getting as frustrated as I used to,” Canty said. “I try to take it day by day, rather than look at the long shot, just taking it game by game.”
He’s tried to remind himself that, even though he’s a freshman, he’s on a roster stacked with young and inexperienced players. The top seven scorers from last season are gone through graduation, transfer or suspension. The top five scorers on this season’s active roster are in their first year in Huntington.
There is no veteran to lean on, so Canty is among the players the rest of the team looks toward as an emotional anchor. He wants to live up to that role.
“When things don’t go my way, don’t melt,” he said. “Don’t be a crybaby. Just grow up. Just try to grow up as much as I can.”
He also wants to grow into a more efficient shooter. While his 16.2 points per game leads Marshall’s active roster, Canty is shooting just 38.4 percent from the field, the result of too many games like his 2-for-14 performance against the University of Texas at El Paso and his 4-for-18 performance against Tulsa. Yet Herrion said Canty is improving there as well, evident in Marshall’s win over Charlotte.
Against the 49ers, Canty led Marshall with 21 points and went eight for 18 from the field. It was his best shooting night since making four of eight versus Rice on Jan. 23.
“He’s really settled in,” Herrion said. “What really happened with him before, when teams would make a run at us or we’d get down, he took it upon himself to think, I’ve got to get it back on this next possession and he’d try to force a shot. Now he’s not doing that as much. He’s settling in and having more trust and more faith and more patience.”
Canty would like all of that to translate to more wins. He should get the chance to contribute to that. In 18 of the Herd’s 26 games this season, he’s played at least 37 minutes and played 40 minutes or more five times.
“He’s had the ball in his hands, good or bad, right or wrong,” Herrion said, “and he’s getting better and better.”
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.