Chennedy Carter knows what you think about her. The sophomore guard knows you saw the highlight, too -- the one where she dribbled between her legs before stepping into a 3-pointer to give Texas A&M the win over DePaul last season and a Sweet 16 berth.
After trailing by 17, Texas A&M completed the fourth-largest comeback in women's NCAA tournament history once Carter's shot dropped through the net. She slapped the floor, stomped her feet and let out an emotional yell. There were still 2.8 seconds left on the clock, but it didn't matter. Just like it didn't matter that the Aggies only trailed by two, and Carter could have driven to the basket and scored to force overtime. Instead, she pulled up for three in the face of a DePaul defender to give Texas A&M the win.
And drained it.
Carter's personality, much like her decision to pull up for the win instead of adhering to conventional wisdom, is polarizing. To her critics, Carter's emotion and unapologetic swagger equate arrogance. But those same characteristics are emblematic of someone who plays with an unbridled love of the game.
As No. 20 Texas A&M embarks on the season without Anriel Howard, one of the nation's best rebounders, and veteran guard Danni Williams -- both of whom transferred -- it's not enough for Carter to score. As the only returning starter, she has to lead, too. And that's a much tougher mountain for the sophomore to climb.
The game against DePaul thrust Carter into the spotlight. Everyone saw the highlight of her game winner. It was a big shot on one of the biggest weekends in basketball. Twitter (and her phone) blew up.
"I enjoyed the fame a little bit," Carter said.
That's the thing about Carter -- she eats all of this up. She likes the attention. She likes being interviewed. She likes shooting 3-point shots in defenders' eyes. And she loves to win. Carter loves winning so much that even though she grew up 30 miles outside of Dallas in Mansfield, Texas, she roots for the Patriots.
"The Cowboys are horrible," she said.
When Carter steps onto the court, it is impossible not to notice her. She's not tall, standing at just 5 feet, 7 inches, but her confidence is imposing. It's the same when she walks into a room. She is capable of manipulating the energy of every game and every conversation of which she is a part. What she needs to do now is learn to share that energy with her teammates.
"What I want her to do is get the W, not just get the points," Texas A&M coach Gary Blair said in a phone interview.
Through the first three games of the season, the Aggies are 2-1. Carter has dropped 22, 22 and 18 points, respectively. The third matchup, a 75-65 loss to then-No. 18 ranked Syracuse, cuts to the heart of the challenges facing Carter and where Blair wants her to improve.
Facing off against another top point guard in Syracuse's Tiana Mangakahia, Carter exploded for 15 points in the first half. As Syracuse adjusted to key in on her in the second, Carter managed just another three points and fouled out with 38 seconds left in the game despite not committing a foul in the first half.
"I don't know if they stopped her so much as she stopped herself," Blair said. "She's got to learn how to play smarter and tougher, so I don't have to protect my team by taking her out."
The game against Syracuse showed that Carter is still working on harnessing her energy on the court. Her game, at times, can be a double-edged sword that inflicts pain internally as much as wreaks havoc on her opponents. The same confidence that allowed her to drop 37 points against DePaul leads to bad shots. The emotion that can rally her team can also result in bad fouls. But Carter is a competitor, molded through games in her backyard against her brothers. "If they beat me, I'd play again until I won," she said.
For Texas A&M to win this season, Carter will have to do more than rain buckets. She might actually have to shoot less. As a scoring point guard, she eats up shots and doesn't create too many additional opportunities in the form of assists. Through three games, Carter is averaging 17 field goal attempts per game (she averaged 18.1 per game last season). She's shooting 43.1 percent from the field, but she's averaging three assists to five turnovers per game.
"We're working with her on leadership," Blair said. "We need her to be a complete player."
How Carter responds to these early tests will shape the rest of the Aggies' season. Her competitive spirit is her guiding light, for better or for worse. Her talent, though, is undeniable. What she does with it is up to her.
"I want to be great one day," Carter said.