The news that Ohio State point guard D.J. Carton is taking time away from the Buckeye basketball program to attend to mental health issues hit home for IU head coach Archie Miller.
He has seen the darkest side of the intersection of mental health and college athletics up close.
“As a coach, I’ve had a few experiences with some guys that have had some trouble and lost a player, Matt Derenbecker, a few years back to a death, and you think about the times that he was with you and the times that he wasn’t, and you just wonder to yourself could you have done more,” Miller said on Friday at a press conference as Indiana gets set to play Ohio State on Saturday.
Derenbecker, who played one season for Miller and the Dayton men’s basketball team in 2012-13 before transferring to New Orleans, was found dead in a swimming pool in August, 2014. He dealt with bipolar disorder since his senior year of high school.
A 6-foot-7 guard/forward from Louisiana, Derenbecker played one season at LSU before transferring to Dayton. He appeared in 30 of 31 games for the Flyers in 2012-13 and announced he was leaving Dayton in June of 2013.
You could sense that Miller knew that something wasn’t right by reading the statement he released at the time Derenbecker transferred.
“I respect Matt’s decision and wish him the best of luck in the future,” Miller said in the release. “We will continue to support Matt and help him with his transfer.”
While the news regarding Carton, Ohio State’s third leading scorer, no doubt has an effect on tomorrow’s game, Miller’s thoughts were with the well-being of the person that he tried to recruit to Indiana.
“There’s no more important issue in collegiate sports, in particular as we deal with college basketball with our players every day, than the mental side of it, and mental health,” Miller said. “It’s a very serious note from our staff, obviously our thoughts go out to DJ and hopefully he’s doing well. Hopefully he continues to do well and gets back as soon as he can for himself.”
Miller sees a climate that has changed even since the time Derenbecker played for him.
Carton announced publicly why he was walking away from the OSU program, and an outpouring of support soon followed on social media.
So much love and respect for you DJ. You’re going to come back stronger than ever. 💪🏻🙏🏻
Don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m right up the road. https://t.co/j7FfEumTX4
— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) January 31, 2020
“If you just look across the board in the NBA and you start to see some of the guys that are talking about it now, it’s becoming more of a thing, and in this day and age kids have a lot on their plate, and you never know what somebody is going through on the way up before they get to you or what’s going on inside of them, Miller said.
“Now, times have really sped up since 2014. Four or five years later now, it’s much more prepared and you’re much more equipped as a university and as a staff, and it’s more serious when somebody has something. But nothing is more important and nothing should be taken more serious when it comes to that type of stuff. You just never know. There’s a lot of guys that go through a lot, and you look down the line, what happens when you don’t deal with it, it can be really impactful and catastrophic, really bad.”
The NCAA granted Derenbecker a waiver so he didn’t have to sit out the 2013-14 season.
He played nine games as a junior at New Orleans before leaving the program for unspecified medical reasons.
Of course it is now clear that Miller’s former player was struggling mightily with something that was more difficult to talk about at the time.
Miller got to know Carton well through the recruiting process. There were several unofficial visits, and the 6-foot-2 point guard spent a long weekend in Bloomington in the summer of 2018 in connection with an official visit.
With the wounds of losing a former player reopened, Miller was left to hope that a more open and supportive climate when it comes to mental health will help get Carton back to a good place.
“So hopefully, like I said, our thoughts go out to DJ and his family, and we need to get him back as soon as possible,” Miller said. “He’s a great kid. He’s a great player.”
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