Lance Carter’s list of accolades is a lengthy one.
Carter’s senior campaign on the Tabor College men’s basketball team culminated in his selection as one of 10 athletes named to the All-America First Team in NAIA Division II, a first for Tabor’s program.
Carter is Tabor’s career scoring leader. He tallied 1,870 points in four seasons in Hillsboro and also holds school records in career assists—the record of which he said he’s most proud—with 628, made field goals (667) and made free throws (422). He is second all-time in rebounds (843).
The two-time KCAC Player of the Year led the Bluejays in points (19.03 per game), rebounds (7.91 per game) and assists (KCAC-best 6.66 per game) this season. He twice was a unanimous All-KCAC first-team selection and was a second-team All-America honoree a year ago.
What has fueled Carter’s success on the court?
“Hard work,” he said. “But obviously, too, the coaches, the people, the environment in general. My family, (I) have to definitely say them. They’ve pushed me ever since I was young—if we were going to do something, to do it the right way and work at it and be the best, essentially.”
Carter also acknowledged coach Micah Ratzlaff’s constant support, as well as the play of his teammates.
“Coach Micah has been there and supported me throughout the good games, bad games, good seasons, bad seasons, all of that,” he said.
“Coach, for sure, has definitely put me in a position to succeed,” he added. “(He) maybe even gave me a little more leeway than some coaches would, so to speak, on the court and just trusted me. That was a big deal, knowing that he trusted me and vice versa.”
The way Carter’s story unfolded at Tabor was not without its setbacks, although he seemed destined for greatness from the start.
In 33 games played as a freshman in 2013-14, Carter scored 411 points, grabbed 191 rebounds and dished out 111 assists. He was a member of the All-KCAC Freshman Team and earned honorable mention honors in the conference as well.
He said coaches recognized his potential to do something special.
“After my freshman year, (my coaches said), ‘You can do whatever you want to do here,’” Carter said. “There was even talk about the scoring record and assist record and just in general to be one of the best that ever played at Tabor. I appreciate them even putting that in my head.
“You always want to set realistic goals, and after my freshman year, I thought that’s something that I could probably do.”
Carter’s accomplishments are even more notable considering he played in only 14 games his sophomore year. A tumultuous off-season resulted in his dismissal from school, but he was later reinstated at Tabor and with the team. Carter ended the season as an honorable mention All-KCAC recipient, having tallied 172 points, 101 rebounds and 96 assists.
The Bluejays accomplished something unprecedented during Carter’s junior season in 2015-16, running the table in the conference and becoming the first team in KCAC history to end the regular season with a 20-0 record. Carter contributed 621 points, 274 rebounds and 188 assists to the effort.
That set the bar high for Carter and the other returning members of the team in 2016-17. The temptation to compare teams was a natural inclination.
Tabor had enjoyed a 9-0 start to the 2015-16 season and lost only three games leading up to the national tournament. But the Bluejays matched that loss total in the first three games of 2016-17, thereby dispelling any illusion this was the same team.
In a sense, then, Tabor’s success hinged on the team’s ability to create its own identity, laying aside the pressure of living up to an undefeated season.
“Unlike last year, we took some bumps early,” Carter said. “We had to figure some things out together, individually. Just in general, we had to find ourselves as a team, find each other, gel.
“We kind of turned into the team that we wanted to be and found ourselves and our own identity. Because there were a lot of comparisons of last year and wanting to be undefeated.”
Despite the early challenges, the Bluejays broke a three-year, first-round losing streak at the national tournament, defeating Davenport, then Robert Morris, before losing a two-point game to defending champion Indiana Wesleyan. Tabor ended the season with a 25-10 record.
“It was very special, just the way we bonded,” Carter said. “On and off the court, it was definitely something that I’ll never forget.”
In his senior campaign, Carter recorded 666 points, 277 rebounds and 233 assists. He ranked third nationally in assists, fourth in assists per game, 19th in scoring, 22nd in rebounds and 38th in points per game.
Carter said his favorite memories include going 30-4 his junior year, scoring 42 points and grabbing 17 rebounds to carry the team to an overtime win over Sterling in the KCAC tournament finals his freshman year, and Tabor’s national tournament run this year.
Although the Bluejays fell short of the ultimate goal of winning it all, Carter’s senior season provided a fitting end to a career characterized by perseverance and grit.
“We felt like we gave ourselves a chance to win, but even then like, being down by 15 to the defending champ and not folding and getting it back to a game and actually taking the lead,” he said. “Never giving up.
“This whole year, we took some bumps, like I said. We lost some tough games and even lost in the conference tournament. That was discouraging, but just turning it around and really going out and playing the way we expected and wanted to at nationals. That was amazing.”
Carter said he is still weighing options for the future. He earned his undergraduate degree in business management from Tabor in May 2016, and said he has one year of study left to complete his master of business administration degree with a focus in leadership.
One option on the table, he said, is returning to Tabor next year as a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team while completing his master’s degree. He said he is also exploring the possibility of continuing to play professionally.
“(I’m) not really sure of anything yet,” he said. “Just kind of still praying and seeing what the Lord has in store.”
Regardless of if he continues playing basketball, Carter intends to stay around the sport, whether that be in an administrative role as an athletic director, or even as a coach.
“I want to be around the game, maybe forever,” he said. “Around sports in general. Sports and young adults, or sports and kids. Whatever it is, I think that’s something that is definitely a calling of mine.”
Reflecting on his time in Hillsboro, Carter said the impact has extended well beyond the court.
“This was where I found myself—and the Lord—but just as a man, and being away from home and figuring out who I want to be after basketball, what type of person I’d like to be,” he said. “I’ve definitely grown up a lot here and I don’t know if it would’ve been the same elsewhere.
“I don’t know if people would’ve poured into me like they have here, spoke truth into me during the tough times, as well. I’m definitely thankful for Tabor and the impact it’s had. It’s been amazing. The impact is definitely way bigger than basketball.”