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Injury could have derailed his career, he never gave up

Robby Carmody attempts a field goal for the Bears against #22 University of Alabama on Nov. 17. The Bears lost the game, 98-67.
Robby Carmody attempts a field goal for the Bears against #22 University of Alabama on Nov. 17. The Bears lost the game, 98-67.

Robby Carmody has serious talent.

A four-star prospect in 2018 out of Mars, Pennsylvania, 247 Sports considered Carmody the 17th-ranked shooting guard in the nation and he committed to perennial NCAA powerhouse Notre Dame.

At Mars Area High School, Carmody played for his father, who, according to Carmody, has coached at the school since before Carmody was born, allowing him to grow up around the program before leading it to two state championship games.

On a snow day in his senior year that allowed him to sleep in before school started, Carmody woke up to the news that he was named Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year.

The award is given to the best all-around player in each state in a variety of sports, from basketball to cross country. The selection process takes into consideration a player’s success in their sport as well as their work outside of the arena. 

Carmody, who was a member of the National Honor Society in high school, volunteered at youth basketball camps and a nursing home. On the court, he was a leader of his team and, according to Mercer Athletics, finished with 2,390 points and 1,216 rebounds in his high school career.

Carmody was a highly-touted prospect who earned several offers from other large schools, such as the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University, both of whom offered scholarships before Carmody was a senior in high school.

According to Notre Dame Athletics, Carmody became the first true freshman to start in the season-opener in more than 15 years, scoring 11 points in 14 minutes. It was a strong start to the freshman’s career, and although he did not start, he continued to be in the rotation while he was healthy.

But just nine games into his collegiate career, Carmody suffered a partial labrum tear and underwent season-ending surgery on his shoulder.

“My shoulder surgery just felt like a bump in the road to me. It was only a four-month recovery and I was ready to go by the summer,” Carmody said. “I was really locked in the whole time, just working my way to get back and get prepared to play again.”

The next time Carmody saw the court was the season-opener of his sophomore season when he recorded six points and four steals on the road against the University of North Carolina. 2019-20 was statistically his best season in South Bend: he averaged 5.6 points per game on 50% shooting.

His season was cut short again, this time by an ACL injury sustained in the final minutes of a 21-point loss to Maryland.

Unlike the shoulder injury, the ACL required a long recovery. In the final stages of his recovery, Carmody was hit with yet another setback. He broke the kneecap of his previously injured knee, extending his already lengthy recovery process by a year and a half.

“I caught myself just thinking, ‘Why me?’ a lot,” Carmody said. “Just got in some really dark places and ended up going to therapy, and that kind of helped reframe my mindset that all this stuff is going to help me get to where I need to be, not where I’m at.”

At practice, while he was rehabilitating his knee from his surgeries, Carmody had to watch his teammates run drills while he worked on strengthening himself. There were times, he said, when he thought he should stop playing basketball.

“There were a couple times where I called my parents and I was like, ‘I just need to quit, I need to be done, I can’t do this anymore,’” Carmody said.

According to the National Institute of Health, about 35% of athletes who had ACL injuries and underwent knee reconstruction either did not return to sports or started playing a different sport.

As his recoveries progressed, Carmody said the help he received from therapists and his strength and conditioning coaches at Notre Dame motivated him to return to the court. Since his injuries, Carmody has served on panels about mental health, according to Mercer Athletics.

A familiar face came calling

Once his fifth year at Notre Dame came to a close, Carmody had logged 18 minutes across six games. On March 4, 2023, Carmody scored his final point of what could have been a very different Notre Dame career.

Not long after entering the transfer portal, an old number came across his phone. Greg Gary, head coach of Mercer’s men’s basketball team, was an assistant at Purdue University when they recruited Carmody in 2018.

“The second I got his call from the portal, I kind of knew that’s probably gonna be a really good fit and somewhere where I have someone who knows a little bit about me before everything happened,” Carmody said. “He had the faith in that I could get back to that point, and the weather doesn’t hurt either.”

Mercer was not the only school to approach Carmody with an offer to play, but, Carmody said, the Bears were the only team to not ask that he prove his physical ability to them.

Coming out of those injuries, neither Carmody nor Gary knew what role the former top prospect would fill in a Mercer squad that lost nine players to the transfer portal and graduation before this season.

What they did know, however, was that there was an age difference between Carmody and his new teammates. Carmody has teammates who are fresh out of high school while this is his sixth season in the NCAA, so as they adjust to the game, he can provide wisdom and leadership for those players who are just getting started in college.

Carmody has already seen some personal success on the court as he is second on the team in scoring, has started every game and is second on the team in scoring and field goal percentage.

The opportunity to get regular minutes and start for a team has “been a blessing,” Carmody said.

“There was a long time where I really never thought I was gonna get a chance to play college basketball at all,” he said. “Not thinking about ‘What if’s’ and ‘What could have been’ but like really living in the moment as it is now, and it’s been, it’s been great.”

March Madness, Carmody said, was the ultimate goal for himself and the team in the end. Even though Mercer has not made the NCAA tournament since 2014, he wants to break that streak. At Notre Dame, Carmody watched his team play in the tournament last year, but his knee injury kept him out of both games.

After this year, he will have one more year of eligibility, but he is not yet committed to playing at Mercer for his final year of college basketball. If an opportunity to play overseas arises, Carmody said that he would jump at it. But still, he has a season ahead of him with new teammates, in a new arena and with new opponents.

Getting used to all that will take what he has had in abundance already in his career: patience.

Gabriel Kopp

Gabriel Kopp '26 is majoring in Journalism and Law and Public Policy at Mercer University. He has written for The Cluster since he started at Mercer, and currently works as the Sports Editor. When he isn't studying, he enjoys going for runs and reading the New York Times.

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