Carney perseveres through adversity
Austen Carney has been through a lot over the past 18 months.
The sophomore at Plum High School battled back from a tough ACL injury in April of 2011, and the baseball and basketball player returned to sports at the start of the 2012 calendar year.
He, along with his family, including younger brothers Logan and Nolan, also helped his mother, Sunny, through her long fight with carcinoid cancer.
Sunny Carney's more-than-four-year battle ended on Nov. 3, and Austen Carney fought through the emotions in the weeks after her death.
When basketball season came calling with the first practices just two weeks later, he took to the court determined, he said, to give his best effort and dedicate his play to her memory.
That effort has translated into a starting role on the varsity team, and his play at both ends of the court helped Plum score a 68-39 victory over Wilkinsburg in a nonsection game at Plum on Saturday.
“When my mom was first diagnosed, they gave her six months to live,” Carney said. “She lived for four years and six months. If she can fight for that long, I can fight for five to 10 more minutes of doing anything, whether it's in basketball or in school. I will be out in a game, and I will think about that and it keeps me going to try and get that rebound or make a play on defense.”
Sunny Carney played basketball in college at Robert Morris in the early 1990s.
“She really knew basketball,” her son said.
“I had two different sides of it. My dad (Mark) is the one that is always saying, ‘Good job, good job,' and my mom always would be the one saying, ‘I can't believe you missed that layup!' or ‘Quit being so lazy getting through screens!' or something like that. If I mess up on the court, I can always hear her voice. She was so supportive of me and my brothers.”
Carney said he also drew even closer to his mother during his recovery from the ACL injury.
“When I started my rehab, she had hip surgery,” he said. “So we were rehabbing at the same place at the same time. We were pretty close, but we got a lot closer through that. She opened my eyes to a lot of things. I saw everything through the way she saw it and how strong she fought. It was completely life changing.”
Support from family and friends has been amazing over the past two months, he said, and his coaches and athletic teammates have been right with him, both before and after his mother's death.
“I couldn't ask for a better place to play right now,” Carney said. “Whatever I need, they will drop everything and do what they can to help me. My teams are always there for me. They are the greatest people. I wasn't on (the varsity basketball team) last year, and it was a bunch of new guys. But they took me in and made me feel a part of the team right from the start. It's been amazing.”
Carney said that he hasn't received any special treatment from coaches or players since his mother's death. He has had to work hard in practice and in games and earn his playing time like everyone else, and he appreciates that.
“With being supportive, everyone has pushed and pushed and pushed me to be my best,” he said.
Carney said the reception he received from the fans and students when he entered the game for the first time during the season-opening victory over Highlands was unbelievable.
“I will never forget that,” he said. “It was probably the best moment of my basketball life and everything I've done with sports. I came off the bench, and as soon as they saw me, everyone began chanting, ‘Austen Carney!' over and over. I was so overwhelmed. I had to concentrate on the game, but at the same time, I was about to break into tears. I was getting so emotional, but I still had to focus.”
Carney pulls double duty on game nights, as in addition to getting playing time on varsity, he also plays on the junior varsity team.
“I'm one of the youngest kids that gets varsity playing time, so my job is to play hard defense and not turn the ball over. All the guys around me are going to do everything else, and I just have to do what I am capable of doing when (head) coach (Ron) Richards puts me in the game.”
His hard work and commitment to the team is uplifting to his teammates as well.
“Austen's been such a motivator for us because of that whole situation,” senior guard Griffin Myers said.
“It's unbelievable how strong he is. He was back at it working hard a week after his mom died. If coach yells at him, he doesn't make excuses. He just wants to work hard and get better.”
The Wilkinsburg victory came one day after a tough 39-34 loss to Pittsburgh Central Catholic in Section 2-AAAA play.
The victim of several close losses, the Mustangs were 1-3 in section heading into its game with Penn Hills on Tuesday. The game was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
Plum hosts Fox Chapel on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and the contest is the continuation of a stretch of six straight home games for the Mustangs.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.