This equation favors Carden

Published January 9, 2008

CLEARWATER - You can make a pretty good argument that when it comes to Florida State basketball, it is greater than, say, Stetson.

You can even write it on a sign, like they did Tuesday night at Clearwater's Jack Wilson Gymnasium.

Go ahead and wave that sign at Pinellas Park's Cam Carden, who happens to be going to Stetson, in the hopes that it will rattle him in his showdown against Tornado standout Luke Loucks, who happens to be going to FSU next season.

We get it. FSU greater than Stetson, Loucks greater than Carden, who also got it.

"I laughed," Carden said. "But I took it as a slap."

Then Carden went out, and showed that judging him by what school he will attend next year, which has more to do with being tall than talented, might not be the best way.

The best way might be like this: look at his 16 points, his 3-pointer to start the game, his coolness on the court, his big free throws down the stretch.

Or maybe, this: rekindling a basketball program that hadn't beaten Clearwater in a dozen years or so.

The sign, it had nothing to do with Carden playing one of his best games.

The idea that he was any less of a player than Loucks because he's not as athletic or fast or tall did.

"Cam is underrated," said his father and coach, Allen, referring to the lion's share of the attention in Pinellas County hoops that goes to Loucks because, well, he's going to FSU.

"I think as a result he plays with a chip on his shoulder."

Make no mistake, Loucks deserves his status as one of the county's best, and certainly most recruited point guard.

He is 6-foot-5, has a sweet handle and an improving shot. He has earned his reputation during the summer, though we are still waiting for it to translate to the high school season.

But scholarships and recruiting services and AAU rankings aside, Cam Carden had a better night than Luke Loucks on Tuesday.

He had more help. He made more shots. Even when it came to passing, a skill for which Loucks is renowned, it was Carden who proved he has just as much honey on his dishes as the future Seminole.

"Cam doesn't get caught up in all the rankings," said his mother, Tammy. "He just flies under the radar. But tonight, I think he played with something to prove. That doesn't make him better than Luke, but ... maybe he wanted this game more."

Cam Carden isn't the only reason Pinellas Park beat Clearwater on Tuesday night.

Pinellas Park was just simply the better team, with more to prove, with greater hunger pangs.

Its role players stepped up and Cam's little brother, Cory, hit some crucial shots and Jake Troyli played big inside and Lee Whiting was clutch.

But Carden had the most to prove, that while Florida State may be better than Stetson, there are few players in the county better than he.

As he walked out of the gym Tuesday night, the sign said it all, crumpled in a ball, at the foot of the bleachers.

John C. Cotey can be reached at 813 909-4612 or johncotey@gmail.com.