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November 17. 2011 12:33AM

Remembering Sam Carey

Southern New Hampshire University coach Stan Spirou, right, and players, pause for a moment of silence in honor of SNHU alum and former basketball player Sam Carey before taking on Saint Michael's College in Manchester Wednesday evening. Carey was killed in a car accident on Tuesday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Sam Carey possessed a gift far greater than his talent for basketball, a powerful smile and personality that lifted those around him.

A 6-foot-8 Teddy bear with tattoos, Carey was a friend and teammate at Manchester Central High School, Southern New Hampshire University and the pro Manchester Millrats — always beaming with pride while wearing a local jersey.

Those are some of the memories Carey, a father and soon-to-be-husband, left behind after the 26-year-old was killed in an auto accident Tuesday afternoon. He was returning home from Quebec City, following his latest pro basketball stint, to see his fiancee, Kayte Kenyon, and 6-month-old son Brayden, when his Chevrolet Trailblazer crashed on Interstate 93 in Campton. It was a single-car wreck, and Carey, ejected from the vehicle, was not wearing a seatbelt according to police.

Reality has been hard to swallow.

“He was just walking through that door. Now he's not with us tonight. Life is not fair,” said SNHU coach Stan Spirou, who cried in his office before Wednesday night's home game against Saint Michael's. “I don't look at it as Sam being a former basketball player. He was a friend and a part of the family.”

During pregame, SNHU players and staff wore specially designed T-shirts with Carey's image on the front and his name and No. 52 on the back. Most everyone at the SNHU Fieldhouse had come across Carey through the years. They'd felt the love. The gift.

“He had that special ability to share a warmth and affection immediately when he met you,” said Central basketball coach David ‘‘Doc'' Wheeler, who monitored Carey's development every step of the way, from a pudgy middle schooler to a dominant force in New Hampshire. “When I close my eyes and visualize Sam Carey, I see him with a big smile and reaching out to hug me. He's such a great example of how we should be with other people.”

Many learned of Carey's death on Facebook late Tuesday night. His friends and acquaintances posted hundreds of messages, pictures and videos within 24 hours of the shocking news.

“It still feels fake. It's rough trying to deal with it. He was just here telling me what I should be doing on the court,” said SNHU senior captain Tory Stapleton, who played one season with Carey and was the driving force behind the tribute T-shirts. “I can't even remember him being mad about anything — even when coach was on him. He had a way of lightening the mood all the time. It was amazing, really.”

Carey usually led the Penmen in rebounding and scored 1,506 career points, ranking 16th overall in program history. He graduated in 2008 but really never left SNHU if you ask current players and coaches. This fall, Carey played pickup games at the SNHU Fieldhouse and often worked out in preparation of his pro season with the Quebec Kebs of the National Basketball League of Canada. In previous seasons, he played professionally in Germany, Uruguay and for the Millrats, who have since moved to Saint John, New Brunswick.

Spirou said the former SNHU center did much of best work off the court.

“He had a tremendous amount of passion and feelings for other people. He came from a large and loving family and you could tell he had a strong value system,” Spirou said. “We talk all the time about the important things in life — things a lot bigger than basketball — and Sam always understood that, whether he was connecting with kids at a camp or giving back to the community when he could.”

There was a moment of silence before the game — and a night of reflection after it. Mark Yeaton, Miguel Gonzalez and other SNHU alumni returned for the game and spoke of Carey during a postgame reception at the Penmen Club, where the SNHU family felt incomplete.

As of Wednesday night, there was no word on any planned service.

“The last time we talked, I was asking him about his son, and his face just lit up,” SNHU athletic director Chip Polak said. “He was psyched about his life. He was going to be a really good father. This hurts. One of our family members is gone. In a day, maybe we'll think about the good stuff and remember all the positives he brought, like his smile, but today is tough.”

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