Camden teen goes from dancer to shot-blocker

She was a singer. She was a dancer, too.

She was a cheerleader, not an athlete. She was a ballerina, not a basketball player.

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Brandi Harvey-Carr , who did not play organized basketball until her sophomore year at LEAP Academy in Camden, averaged 21 points, 18 rebounds, and 7 blocks this season. She is headed to DePaul University on a basketball scholarship.

She also was the tallest girl in her class, with strong hands, light feet and a competitor's heart buried beneath that nail-polished, eye-lined, girly girl exterior.

"I didn't realize how competitive I was," Brandi Harvey-Carr said.

Harvey-Carr's remarkable transformation - call it "Extreme Makeover: From Aspiring Diva to Division I Athlete" - has everybody from her schoolmates to her coach to her father shaking their head in amazement.

This is a girl who never played organized basketball until her sophomore year at LEAP Academy, a small charter school off Cooper Street in Camden, just around the corner from the Rutgers-Camden campus and in the shadow of the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Now, Harvey-Carr has just completed a senior season in which she averaged 21 points, 18 rebounds, and 7 blocks. She has signed to attend DePaul University, a member of the Big East Conference, on a basketball scholarship.

"Basketball scholarship?" Harvey-Carr said in wonder, since she might be more amazed than anybody else at her situation. "I think about it sometimes and I'm like, 'Wow.' I had no interest in the game. None.

"Everybody would tell me, 'You have to play. You're so tall.' I didn't want to play. I thought I would make a fool of myself."

Ron Carr, Brandi's father, played a little junior varsity basketball at Camden High School in the mid-1980s. Carr still can shoot, according to LEAP coach Ted Evans.

One day when Brandi was around 9 or 10, Carr took his daughter to a court around the corner from her grandmother's house in South Camden and tried to show her how to shoot the ball. She wasn't interested.

Harvey-Carr had other things on her mind. She loved to sing. She attended dance school. She was a top student, pulling in steady A's with a special interest in math and science.

"I gave up [trying to get her to play]," Ron Carr said. "She didn't want to have anything to do with it."

Harvey-Carr was steadily rising to her present height of 6-4. She was always tall - "The back row of every class picture," her dad said - but a growth spurt around sixth and seventh grade brought even more questions about sports.

"I taught her in sixth grade," Evans said. "She was so quiet, never said a word. I never thought she would play sports."

LEAP Academy started a club varsity team in girls' basketball during Harvey-Carr's freshman year. She didn't play.

The team moved to the varsity level when Harvey-Carr was a sophomore. That's when she finally decided to give the sport a try.

"I figured it might be fun to try," Harvey-Carr said.

Her father remembers when Brandi came home and told him she was going to play basketball.

"I was like, 'Yeah, right,' " Carr said. "But then she went in her book bag and showed me the permission slip."

She could barely jump as a sophomore, according to Evans. But she had that height, and surprisingly strong and sure hands - "She caught everything," the coach says - and she started to develop a competitive edge.

"All of a sudden, I wanted to win," Harvey-Carr said. "In everything."

A player on another team saw Harvey-Carr's potential and alerted a coach on an AAU team, the New York Gauchos. Based in the Bronx, the Gauchos are one of the top teams on the East Coast.

"They asked me if I wanted to play summer ball and I was like, 'Summer ball? Is that like going and playing in the park?' " Harvey-Carr said.

Practices and spring and summer games with the Gauchos helped change Harvey-Carr from a raw, tall talent into an increasingly polished player whom Evans calls "another coach on the court."

"It's amazing," Evans said. "She's out there directing traffic and she never played this game before her sophomore year."

Harvey-Carr still is a top student, a member of the National Honor Society. She said she chose DePaul because of the high academic standards on its women's team. The Blue Demons were No. 3 in the nation during the 2010-11 school year with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.58.

She plans to major in biology, with hopes of becoming a dentist.

She still likes to sing and dance.

But now she likes to block shots, too.

"I never could have imagined that this would happen to me," Harvey-Carr said.

 


Girls' Division I Signings

Here is a list of South Jersey girls' basketball players who have signed with Division I colleges:

Player   High School   College

Brandi Harvey-Carr   LEAP Ac.   DePaul

Amanda Offenbach   Holy Cross   Monmouth

Brittany Snow   Seneca   Stony Brook

Nola Henry   Willingboro   Massachusetts

Vanessa Neal   Pennsauken   Niagara

Sandra Odogbi-Ofogu   Life Center   St. John's


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports