Freshman guard Kanaan Carlyle does not need to talk a lot to make his presence known on the court. With a simple between-the-legs dribble, he makes defenders instinctively shuffle their feet backward. In just two hard dribbles, the six-foot-three guard can find himself at the rim, soaring over defenders for a dunk.
This is nothing new for his longtime trainer, Korey Harris, who has known Carlyle for at least a decade now.
“Kanaan will have you scratching your head sometimes like, “Did he just do that?!,” Harris wrote. “From his acrobatic finishes to his ability to find the tightest gaps within the defense and throw darts to his teammates, Kanaan is the definition of a player that flirts with the razor’s edge.”
But beyond his noteworthy athleticism, which include a 40-inch vertical and speed to kill for, Carlyle possesses a mindset that’s rare for players of his caliber.
“It takes a special person to truly not care what others think and be willing to play carefree, especially on some of the largest stages,” Harris wrote. “Kanaan has that level of self-confidence.”
This fearless mindset was also evident in his recruiting. The freshman guard from Atlanta had offers from some of the top basketball programs in the country, including Baylor, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee. But rather than choosing one of those colleges, Carlyle decided to forge his own path and attend Stanford — 2,481 miles away from his hometown.
The Georgia product is aware that his decision may puzzle outsiders.
“I feel like Stanford is a different decision than what most players would make,” Carlyle said. “They would go to Baylor or Auburn, but to me I feel like I’m different. What I made was a different decision.”
It wasn’t Stanford’s athletic facilities or fan support that drew him. Rather, Carlyle was impressed by the determination displayed by the students on his visit to campus.
“I really liked how ambitious everyone on Stanford’s campus seemed to be,” Carlyle told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Just walking around during my visit, everyone was studying. You could tell how goal-oriented they were. I was like, ‘I want to be a part of that.’”
Those who have worked closely with Carlyle understand that his mindset is different from other basketball stars his age.
Recalling an old encounter with Carlyle, Harris wrote, “I knew Kanaan was different when I met him over 10 years ago.” Harris was brought in as a guest speaker for elementary school players at a local gym.
“He was the only kid to ask questions. In fact he asked so many questions that one of the coaches had to cut him off just so we could finish on time!” he wrote.
For Harris, this curiosity is what sets Carlyle apart from other athletes.
“He’s unique because most players that are fearless competitors also struggle with an out of control ego or an apprehension towards criticism,” Harris wrote. “Kanaan isn’t like most. He wants to learn.”
Carlyle’s inquisitive and ambitious mindset does not just apply to basketball. He also plans to study business at Stanford and to become an entrepreneur after his basketball career ends.
“I’ll probably study business, hopefully I’ll go to the league so I gotta learn how to be able to take care of my own money,” Carlyle said in an interview with Pro Insight. “I want to build up my business one day after basketball.”
After spending his first three years of high school at Milton High School, 45 minutes from Atlanta, the six-foot-three guard wanted to expedite his basketball development even further. When looking into alternative options for his last year of school, the athletic combo guard was intrigued by the option to play at Overtime Elite, especially when league officials told him that he could forfeit the salary and not sacrifice college eligibility.
Eventually, Carlyle decided to join the upstart professional basketball league, which has become a popular alternative to college basketball. The league allowed Carlyle to get experience playing against the best 16-to-20 year old basketball talent nationally, while also giving him the opportunity to work out with top coaches and trainers.
Despite an opportunity to get paid a hefty six-figure salary and start his professional career early, Carlyle remained firm in his commitment to the Cardinal, showing how much he wanted to attend school on the Farm — for its opportunities on and off the court.
“My parents wanted me to go to college and I wanted to go to college, so it was never really in consideration to go the pro route through OTE,” Carlyle said. “But overall I’m glad I went there. I learned a lot from everyone who was there and it was amazing for my development.”
Coming out of high school, the dynamic guard has been praised by scouts for his tight handle, shot-creation and disruptive defense. But in his constant attempt to improve, Carlyle said he has focused on “becoming more efficient and expanding my range out to the college three-point line” this pre-season.
Stanford’s coaching staff has been impressed by Carlyle’s development since he’s gotten on campus
“He had an extremely productive summer and has continuously improved since the day we started summer workouts,” said assistant basketball coach David Berkun. “His natural ability, athleticism and basketball instincts really stand out, and these traits will immediately translate to the college game.”
While the Atlanta guard’s dedication to his development on and off the court is evident, he will need to find the necessary resolve for the distinct challenge that lays ahead of him. While other top players in his high school class are looking to aid programs that have had a history of recent success, Carlyle is looking to resurrect a program that hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2014.
“I want to be different,” Carlyle told the SF Chronicle. “I want to get Stanford back to the [NCAA] Tournament.”