The Arkansas State University (ASU) Red Wolves basketball team is undergoing a major renovation under the guidance of master craftsman John Brady.
Taking over the program following Dickey Nutt's last season at ASU, a year in which the Red Wolves went 4-11 in Sun Belt Conference (SBC) play, Brady led the team to a 5-13 conference finish in his first year at the helm, followed by an 11-7 mark this past year. Those 11 wins in conference play marked only the second that ASU had won that many games in SBC play. Those wins also led to Brady, who previously coached at Louisiana State University before moving to Jonesboro, being named Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year.
Now, as the Red Wolves look to take that rebuilding project to the next level -- a Sun Belt championship -- Brady is adding more power to his arsenal.
A four-time All-State high school player.
A walking double-double.
Melbourne Bearkatz' standout Spencer Caraway.
Caraway signed a letter of intent to walk on and play hoops for Brady and ASU next fall May 11 in a ceremony inside The Arena at Melbourne, on the Melbourne High School campus.
The 6-5 senior averaged 24 points, 14 rebounds and two blocked shots a game this past season, helping Melbourne to a 32-7 record. In addition to All-Conference, All-Regional and All-State honors once again, Caraway was also named to the Arkansas High School Coaches Association All-Star game and landed on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's All-Arkansas third team.
Those numbers and awards led to Caraway catching the eye of numerous colleges, but in the end, he picked Arkansas State over Southern Illinois, John Brown University, Harding University and a number of NCAA Division II schools, along with a host of junior college choices.
"Well, Coach Brady and ASU got a good one, for sure," Melbourne Coach Mike Watson said. "If Spencer puts on 25 pounds of muscle and works on his ball-handling and defense, he's going to be a player for them in a couple of years. He could be a real matchup problem for a lot of people -- posting up against smaller players inside and taking the ball out on the floor and shooting the 3."
Part of the reason Caraway picked ASU was the rebuilding job that Brady is currently involved in with the Red Wolves.
"Coach Brady and the campus up there was awesome," Caraway said. "And they're developing a winning program with Coach Brady -- he's changed the whole program. They went from winning a few games to being the favorites to win the Sun Belt now. That's the main reason I chose ASU. I just thought that was the right one for me."
A naturally-gifted athlete, Caraway also played baseball, football and was even a key member of the Bearkatz' Class 2A State Championship-winning golf team this past fall.
But it was on the basketball court that Caraway made the most noise.
Blessed with the fluid agility of a smaller point guard, while coupled with the nifty footwork of a center, Caraway was comfortable facing the bucket out on the perimeter, or with his back to the basket on the low blocks.
Those skills are what helped Caraway earn the title of Class 1A State Tournament MVP while helping lead the Izard County Cougars to a state title his sophomore year. After playing for the Cougars his freshman and sophomore years, Caraway transferred to Melbourne for his final two seasons of high school.
But regardless of the school, Caraway's teams always seemed to find their way deep into the heart of the hunt for a state championship.
"We made a different run every year. My freshman (at Izard County) year we thought we had a chance all year and we did. We made it to the final four and then got beat by the eventual state champions," he said. "Then my sophomore year, we graduated a few kids, but Chase Massey transferred in and that was a big help and we won the state title -- had the best year in school history. Then my 11th grade year, we decided to transfer here (Melbourne) -- the new school's right across the road from my house -- and we thought it would be a great atmosphere with the new gym and everyone accepted us here right away. And we made it to the state finals. Probably should have won it, but we had some kids get sick and things didn't go our way, and we came in second. And then this year we graduated a bunch of kids, but we made it back to the state tournament and should have made some noise in it. But we had a tough first-round matchup (with Conway St. Joseph, the team that beat the Bearkatz in the Class 2A finals the year before) and got knocked out."
Caraway knows things will be ratcheted up a notch or two at the NCAA Division I level, and he also knows what it will take in order for him to make an impact on things.
"I know I've got to put on weight and get faster next year. I feel if I do that, Coach Brady thinks I should be able to step in and play after that," he said. "The main thing is working on being able to guard my man and to get quicker -- being able to make my moves faster and being able to see the court better. He wants me mostly at the 3 (small forward), and that's where I think I'll be most effective at."