He studied at Stanford University, is on pace to finish his master’s degree within two years and owns compelling stories of injuries, recovery and growth.
There are myriad ways, indeed, to describe former Flintridge Prep basketball standout Robert Cartwright and many directions the Los Angeles Rockfish club basketball product can take.
Yet, whether he’s in Pasadena or Palo Alto, winning a CIF Southern Section championship or falling short of reaching the NCAA Tournament, Cartwright has always described himself as a basketball player.
Hoops helped Cartwright find early attention, laid his path to Stanford and now to UC Irvine, and is his guiding star as he heads into uncharted territory.
Thirteenth-seeded UC Irvine (30-5) will meet No. 4 Kansas State (25-8) in an NCAA first-round Southeast Regional game at 11 a.m. Friday in San Jose on TBS.
“I’ve had a love for the game since I was young,” Cartwright said. “The passion has never really dropped. There were some really tough moments and times I wasn’t sure I would continue, but basketball has remained a constant in my life.”
It was easy to love hoops when Cartwright was leading Flintridge Prep to a CIF title his freshman year in 2011 or when he verbally committed to Stanford in September of 2013.
While Cartwright suffered an ankle injury that cost him nine games his senior year in high school, the point guard still returned to lead his squad to a Prep League championship.
His experience, talent and toughness seemed to provide the necessary experience needed to thrive at the Division I level.
A collegiate freshman season in which Cartwright logged 11 minutes per game was capped when he made a brief appearance for Stanford in a 66-64 overtime victory against Miami at Madison Square Garden for the NIT Championship on April 2, 2015.
That triumph appeared to set the stage for a breakthrough 2015-16 sophomore season.
Unfortunately for Cartwright, his path to stardom hit a roadblock.
The guard slipped and fell during a practice less than two weeks before the start of the season. The result was a compound fracture in his right arm along with a torn ligament in his elbow that cost him the entire sophomore season.
“My first reaction when I looked at my arm was, ‘my season was over,’” Cartwright said. “I knew right away that that was the result. There’s only so much you can do. You just accept that you have a long rehab process in front of you.”
When Cartwright returned the following season for his redshirt sophomore campaign, Stanford had fired eight-year coach Johnny Dawkins.
“[The injury] was certainly unfortunate given that I felt that I was in a really good place,” Cartwright said. “I was going to have a big role with the coach that recruited me to Stanford — Johnny Dawkins.”
Cartwright played in 58 games with 18 starts over the next two seasons, averaging 6.7 points and 3.5 assists his redshirt sophomore year and 4.7 points and 2.3 assists his redshirt junior year.
Stanford finished 33-33 those two seasons and never reached the NCAA Tournament.
As for Cartwright, though he was “healthy,” he was never exactly whole.
“There are a certain range of motions, components of my arm that I have not been able to regain the exact same way,” he said.
Though Cartwright graduated from Stanford in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in science, technology and society, there was a still a sense of unfinished business.
Due to the injury, Cartwright still had one year of eligibility left, which offered him a chance to transfer without repercussion.
Cartwright came back to Southern California and enrolled in UC Irvine master’s program in legal and forensic psychology.
“If I wanted to accomplish some individual goals, I wasn’t going to be able to do it there,” Cartwright said of Stanford. “So, I made the decision to come play for a team that I felt had a chance to make it the NCAA Tournament. My No. 1 focus is to have an opportunity to play in that because I’ve never had that chance.”
Cartwright added, “It certainly was a factor being able to come close to home.”
This season, Cartwright has played in 35 games with nine starts and is averaging 6.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, while he’s second on the team in steals (37).
The goal for Cartwright and UC Irvine was ultimately to win the Big West Conference title and conference tournament, and the Anteaters did just that. The tourney title guaranteed a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
UC Irvine had not advanced to the tournament in three seasons.
As for beyond Irvine, Cartwright doesn’t known where he’ll be, but he knows in what direction he’ll travel.