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A.J. Carr 2014

Norman Sloan, the volatile basketball coach at N.C. State from 1966 to 1980, once told a pack of sportswriters that if it weren’t for A.J. Carr, he could say he hated all of the writers who covered him.

Sloan described the sportswriters with a series of words, one of which rhymes with snitch. But Sloan put Carr in another category – and indeed Carr was in his own category as a great writer and an even better person.

Carr reported on sports for The News & Observer from 1966 until he retired in 2009. He received the North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year Award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 1978 and 2008, which showed that he “played” at a high level for a long, long time.

Big-time coaches aren’t known for their tact or patience. Many distrust reporters, believing they are out to get them. It’s true reporters get paid to ask the hard questions, the ones fans want answered. Carr thrived in that environment. He could ask the hard questions, but he did it in a way that endeared him to players and coaches. He spoke softly, with humility, and was always polite. His religious faith – he’s been an active member of Millbrook Methodist Church for years – is vital to him and influenced his work.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said players and coaches sensed Carr’s sincerity and commitment and opened up to him. “When you talk about honest, trustworthy and good, A.J.’s picture comes up,” Krzyzewski said when Carr retired.

Former UNC coach Dean Smith agreed. “He’s very thorough,” Smith said in 2008. “It always came out right. I had a lot of confidence in him.”

Carr was born and raised in Duplin County in eastern North Carolina. He was an excellent athlete at Wallace-Rose Hill High School, playing baseball, basketball and football, earning all-conference honors in the last two.

He was a 5-foot-7, 135-pound blur of energy. Carr said he remembers from his playing days how disappointed players and coaches are after a loss. “The games mean as much to them as does a Carolina Final Four game to Roy Williams or a Duke Final Four game does to Coach K,” Carr once said. “To me, every story is important.”

Carr was a graceful writer, even on deadline. He wrote with flair. He had a gift for writing about athletes as people. He also could break the hard-to-get story. He was competitive and his phone calls were almost always returned. Terry Holland, the former Virginia basketball coach who was later the athletics director at East Carolina, said Carr was rarely scooped on a story because “he knows everyone and none of us can lie to or mislead him.”

When Carr retired, Holland told the N&O’s Chip Alexander: “Most of us would settle for the kind of inscription that could easily be his epitaph: ‘Here lies the nicest, kindest man you could hope to meet … and a darn good sportswriter.”

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