The new go-to guy for the UCSB men’s basketball team hasn’t scored a basket in nearly 50 years.
Dr. Joe Carr wasn’t quite Dr. J when he suited up for Sacramento State during the early 1970s. The renowned sports psychologist, however, has been playing a superstar role while helping the Gauchos cope with the current strife of racial tension and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He’s been such an unbelievable resource for us these past few years,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said.
Dr. Carr, known affectionately as “Doc” by the Gauchos, sits on their bench during practices and games — and even now in their virtual Zoom meetings, more than three months after the preemption of their season.
“It’s the new normal,” Dr. Carr said. “The fact they can’t have a physical connection with each other right now is really tough for these guys.
“We talk about how it’s normal to feel anxious in this climate. We tell them if you’re not anxious about it, that means you’re taking risks that could really put you and your teammates in jeopardy. We don’t want to paralyze them about it, but we do want them making wise and responsible decisions.”
Pasternack enlisted him for one of their video conferences when racial protests and violence flared after the May 25 killing of George Floyd. Dr. Carr got several of the Gauchos to open up about their own incidents of racial abuse.
“As adults, we sometimes don’t even think these kids have had those kind of experiences,” he said. “Once they started talking about it, it put them into a position of being in a learning and supportive mode with each other.”
Pasternack was only 22, working as a video coordinator for the Cal basketball team, when Golden Bears head coach Ben Braun dispatched him to the airport to pick up Dr. Carr. It was the beginning of a long, close relationship.
“He’s been a part of my life the past 20 years, every step of the way,” Pasternack said. “He’s made such a tremendous impact on me as a coach and as an individual, helping me to understand that it’s not about X’s and O’s but about building relationships and helping these young men prepare for the rest of their lives.”
The first thing the doctor asked his young chauffeur two decades ago was where he wanted to take his basketball career.
“He got into it right away,” Dr. Carr said with a laugh. “He got really fired up — started going 65 in a 25 mph zone. He wanted to know everything. I told him, ‘Hey Joe! Slow down! You’re gonna get a ticket!’
“He does obey the speed limit now… although we did have to get him some speed bumps.”
Pasternack called upon him after becoming the head coach at New Orleans, and during a subsequent stint as an assistant coach at Arizona.
“He’s still hyper-curious,” Dr. Carr continued, “but now he’s hyper-curious about everything including those things that are outside of basketball — about how to become a better person and a better family man.
“A coach can become an autocrat, do anything he wants in controlling players, and that can lead to an abuse of power. But I’ve never seen that in him. I see him as a collaborative consensus-seeker, always trying to improve his management and leadership style. That curiosity has driven him into becoming a better leader.”
Dr. Carr’s work in basketball has taken him to more than two dozen college campuses. He also developed the NBA’s rookie orientation program and has worked with many of the league’s superstars including LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Dikembe Mutombo.
He was even enlisted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons to develop its first multi-family therapy program to help inmates in their transition back into society. The Drug Enforcement Agency also contracted him for its Employee Assistance Program and he even made President Clinton’s short list for the position of National Drug Czar.
Dr. Carr uses the acronym of “R.A.R.E.” to explain his philosophy for basketball success:
“R stands for relationships; you know, establishing like a brotherhood, kind of a close-knit family,” he said. “A stands for accepting challenges; getting people to handle tough things, tough times and experiences, and being able to do it at a high level.
“The next R stands for recovery from mistakes; having people that bounce back quicker and don’t dwell on situations. And E stands for executing coach’s direction, so that each player has a blind trust in the coach and their teammates.”
Pasternack told of how Amadou Sow, his two-time all-league forward, was able “to lean on” Dr. Carr last December when his father passed away in the West African nation of Mali.
“At the beginning of the season, Amadou told his story, so we all knew his family background and his religious beliefs,” Dr. Carr said. “The relationship that was built helped the team let him know that, ‘We’re your brother… If you need us, call us… We’re here for you.’
“It allowed Amadou to feel safe here in a difficult time.”
The Gauchos “have the chance to be very special next season,” he added. “There’s not a knucklehead in the group.”
Sow and 6-foot-10 Robinson Idehen, he added, should bring a large presence in the post.
“Robinson is a heck of a kid,” Dr. Carr gushed. “He’s not only a warrior but he’s empathetic and care-oriented. He has a natural leadership ability.
“And Amadou is a guy who’s very passionate about his people and his country. He reminds me of Dikembe Mutombo that way. I see that same light in Amadou, using basketball as a platform to make a difference in the world.”
A Doc, after all, has taught them that standing tall is about more than just height.