Less than two weeks after graduating from Sunrise Mountain, Colin Carey was on to the next phase in Flagstaff.
He is still there with the rest of the NAU basketball team. Carey arrived in Flagstaff May 30. Since, the 6-6 forward been lifting four days a week and playing three days.
“I really like it up here. It’s beautiful and I like the rain. Everyone’s very honest and hard working,” Carey said.
Carey’s recruiting started and ended with the Lumberjacks — he officially signed his letter of intent May 3. But as with the rest of the Class of 2021, his recruiting path was bumpy.
Carey finished a promising sophomore season in 2019 with averages of 11.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. A couple months later the Mustangs headed up to NAU for camp.
His most important bridge to college basketball was built in there in summer of 2019.
He was a promising wing entering his junior season. Shane Burcar was the Lumberjacks’ lead assistant, soon to be promoted to interim head coach when Jack Murphy left.
“That’s when Shane saw him. After he get the job and he was adamant about making sure the best talent in Arizona stays, Sunrise Mountain coach Gary Rath said.
During the Lumberjacks’ 2019-20 season, Carey went north for a game. NAU would win 16 with Burcar as interim coach.
“I saw the game and I really liked the environment. And the city is beautiful,” Carey said.
Still it was early in his recruiting process and other Division I programs like the California-Riverside and the University of San Diego showing interest.
Rath remembers talking to Carey about NAU during his junior season, and the forward said he was waiting for the summer of 2020 — before that summer of basketball was largely wiped out.
“He was on the map. People were talking about him. Then he lost a whole spring and summer,” Rath said.
Sunrise Mountain has arrived as a force in 5A thanks in no small part to Carey’s star turn. He poured in 17.1 points and grabbed seven rebounds a game with the Mustangs playing in the conference’s toughest region.
Two weeks after the season the lives of 2021 athletes went — along with the rest of the country — into a virtual standstill.
“It sucked that COVID hit and we had no live period. We were talking to each other and wondering if we’d get the chance to go on to college and play,” Carey said.
Colleges caught back up with him a couple games into the shortened 2021 season, which was briefly canceled before starting in mid-January.
Sunrise Mountain finished 11-10 but Carey carried the squad to the 5A quarterfinals, pouring in 20.1 points and grabbing 8.2 rebounds.
Schools talked to Rath during the season, but his star was growing more sure of his decision.
“He just felt more comfortable with NAU,” Rath said.
Carey said he was sure about a month after the Mustangs’ season ended.
“I didn’t want to wait to long to make the decision,” Carey said.
While there are several Arizona players returning to the Lumberjacks roster, Carey said the only one he knows well is former Ironwood star Ajang Aguek.
Rath talked to Carey since he headed to Flagstaff and noted his enthusiasm.
The COVID-19 marred NCAA season did not do NAU any favors, as Burcar’s first team as head coach finished 6-16. With more normalcy and a turned over roster this could be the year NAU makes a leap in the Big Sky, or at least the start of a revival.
“I’m excited for what’s to come up here,” Carey said.