Rhode Island assistant coach Jim Carr is crying in his hotel room on a Tuesday night in Utica, New York. He’s trying to keep it together, but this is his son we’re talking about.
His son is dead.
Brayden Carr, a beautiful young boy gone 80, 90, maybe 100 years too soon. The wound is still open even though it’s been more than five years since he passed. Brayden suffered from sporadic epileptic seizures from the time he was six months old up until he was taken form the world at the age of 2 1/2.
“He spent the last 100 days of his life fighting to live,” Carr said. “From that point on, he suffered cardiac arrest five times. Each time, I watched my boy come back. When you see that, you sort of get that feeling this kid is going to fully recover. Up until they came and told me, ‘This is going to be your son’s last day,’ I never thought he was going to die. Before, he was a healthy kid with a seizure condition.”
Carr has told Brayden’s story many times in the past half-decade, but now, for the first time publicly, he’s disclosing more information behind what led to his Brayden’s unexpected death.
“The whole story is ‘he’s a fighter and fought ’til the end,’ but no, the reality is there was a medical error and it cost him his life,” Carr said. “Tough, tough kid. Big personality for a kid that age. Huge smile, beautiful eyes. … It drives us crazy, but you understand why. He could’ve lived a very long life with what he was suffering from. But a medical error happened and he was never able to recover.”
Many people go through life dealing with epilepsy. They live long, successful, happy lives. That was supposed to be Brayden. Jim believes his son was stolen from him. Now the pain never leaves. The family believes a critical medical miscalculation led to Brayden’s death. Carr and his wife, Natalie, sued for malpractice. They subsequently lost the case. Carr remembers how “routine” the legal proceedings felt the day his litigation was tossed out of court. It was a long way from every night they spent in his hospital. If Brayden was there, so were they.
“The one myth is you’ll eventually work toward a closure, but that’s never going to happen,” Carr said. “It hits you in such weird ways. Like with me, I’ll be driving to work and I see a kid getting on a school bus.”
“I remember talking with an old man who lost his wife,” Carr continued, “and he described it like he lost his arm. But when you lose a kid, it’s like it adds parts to your body. Like a weight on your heart, and you feel it every day.”
Carr can barely get the sentence out through the tears. He’s in Utica for a typical recruiting trip, the kind hundreds of coaches around the country are taking right now. But none of them have spent most of the past six weeks balancing the job with running one of the most successful and uplifting coaching clinics in the business. Carr is preparing for this Friday’s inaugural coaches clinic in Rhode Island. The charity behind it — “In Brayden’s Eyes, The Brayden Carr Foundation Inc.” — has become a force for positivity inside basketball circles and an agent for change outside the sport. Since 2011, Jim and Natalie have run the clinic to help raise money for their 100-percent nonprofit charity.
There was no clinic last year due to logistical issues with the family moving. To make up for missing out in 2015, Carr is splitting the event into two clinics more than 170 miles apart. This weekend, the University of Rhode Island — where Carr is an assistant coach under Dan Hurley — will host. The guest speakers include UConn legend Jim Calhoun, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Hurley, and Yale coach James Jones. Then, on Sept. 23, the clinic will be held at the Prudential Center, in Newark, N.J. where Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, legendary former Princeton coach Pete Carrill, Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood and Montverde Academy coach Kevin Boyle will speak.
“We set a bar — and it’s very high — for our speakers,” Carr said. “We don’t want to repeat anybody. The actual product of the clinic is very, very good.”
To understand what this clinic has meant to the coaching world, here’s an attendance list of coaches — all of whom do this for free, on their own dime and own time — that have attended the event in previous years:
- Mike Brey
- Hubie Brown
- Larry Brown
- John Calipari
- Tom Crean
- Mick Cronin
- Jamie Dixon
- Billy Donovan
- Fred Hoiberg
- Bob Hurley, Sr.
- George Karl
- John Lucas
- Frank Martin
- Sean Miller
- Rick Pitino
- Bill Self
- Erik Spoelstra
- Jeff Van Gundy
- Stan Van Gundy
- Buzz Williams
- Jay Wright
So many Hall of Famers on that list, and many more who are on their way to Springfield, Mass. Coaches from any and every level are invited to attend, and walk-ups are accepted. Registration can be done online, too.
“It’s really old fashioned,” Carr said. “We put an hour on the clock, have a Division III team demonstrating drills. I think the old-fashioned style of it helps. Guys aren’t speaking and being videotaped, then rushed off the floor. They teach and stick around. It’s great his (Brayden’s) name is associated with these guys.”
The names who’ve come to Carr’s clinic speak to the power of Brayden’s story but the closeness of the community and the respect so many have for the Carr family. Calhoun and Stevens have even refused to allow for a car service to bring them to and fro for Friday’s clinic at the Ryan Center on URI’s campus.
The clinic was put into motion in the aftermath of the Brayden’s tragedy. Former NBA coach and current NBA color commentator Jeff Van Gundy was the catalyst, and it’s been a rousing success since year one. Hundreds of coaches from every level, even down to grade school, attend.
“I’ve been blessed that I’ve been around college basketball now for more than 20 years, and I think people are touched by the story,” Carr said. “If a college coach comes, he’s sacrificing recruiting for that day. The NBA guys, it’s less than 10 days before training camp.”
One hundred percent of the money brought in by “In Brayden’s Eyes” comes from the once-a-year clinic. It’s become of the booming successes in basketball. Thousands of dollars for scholarships and charity work have been raised and given back to people and families in need. The foundation doesn’t support just one clinic, one hospital, one doctor’s office. Major Fortune 500-level corporate sponsors have been involved since 2011 as well. They fund anything from kids’ enrollment to online high school classes when certain teens have issues with neurological conditions, to helping specific teenagers get through driving school (because kids with seizures don’t take normal driver’s ed class). One family was the beneficiary of a specific therapy room custom-built in their house for their son, while another was donated a specific type of van that allowed their son to travel with specific, large equipment he needed in order to function.
Jim will run the Rhode Island clinic. Natalie Carr will operate the New Jersey one. Each coach speaks for 60 minutes. A photo of Brayden is placed in front of the clock.
“The speakers will walk out and see his face the whole time, and it’s kind of neat,” Carr said as he became emotional again.
Brayden was buried in Palm City, Fla., next to his maternal grandmother, who passed a few months before he did.
“It was almost like we couldn’t bear to leave him by himself,” Carr said.
Every year, on Sept. 26 — Brayden’s birthday — the Carrs release balloons in their boy’s memory. It’s then that Jim will again unclench a bundle of balloons and let them disappear into the air above Narragansett, Rhode Island. On the same day, his 3-year-old daughter, Lucia, will be with her mom in Florida. (She’s learning more and more about the brother she never met.) They too will set balloons into the atmosphere, closer to when Brayden permanently rests.
Carr would love nothing more than to never have to do this coaching event in advance of his son’s birthday, but now he considers himself blessed by it, not burdened.
“Friday and next Friday are the most selfish unselfish days of the year for us,” Carr said. “We’ll never stop doing it. It helps us heal, doing stuff like this. You know, I was talking to someone one time, and there’s not even a word for it. If you lose your wife, you’re a widower. When you lose your child, it’s horrible. No one could even make a name for it.”
Father and mother forever, in life and death. Those are the only names needed, no matter the circumstances. The Carrs have been buoyed by family, both their own and by basketball kinfolk, which continues to show how connected and supportive the sport is through all levels. It will be on display again in Rhode Island on Friday, when Calhoun, Stevens, Hurley and Jones become the latest to attach their names to Brayden Carr.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / After assistant coach’s son dies, big-name coaches line up to help at annual clinic