As a player who has already received what seems to be a lifetime supply of second chances, former Louisville basketball player Derrick Caracter is getting yet another one. Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com posted a story today about Caracter’s intended journey back to the NBA, starting out by playing for the Atlanta Hawks summer league team along with former Louisville classmate Jerry Smith. Caracter insists this time will be different. He claims he has been humbled by his experiences, has a newfound spirituality, and is prepared to do what it takes to get back in the game.
Out of all of the recruits Rick Pitino has brought in to Louisville, few have caused more excitement as well as more headaches than Caracter. After being one of the most highly regarded recruits in the Pitino era up to that point, U of L fans expected big things from the big man right away, perhaps even a one-and-done type season, but his commitment did come with red flags. Talent was never the issue with Caracter. Watching the young man play, it was clear he had more ability than he knew what to do with. Grant Billmeier, a former teammate of Caracter’s at St. Patrick’s High School in New Jersey told Pete Thamel of the New York Times he had never seen a kid with that much ability, and did not believe Caracter knew just how special his talent was. His problem was his attitude. According to Thamel, Caracter did not even make it a year at St. Patrick’s, being suspended for a year after knucklehead offenses such as constant tardiness, uniform violations, and class misbehavior, and the prinicipal just got fed up with it all. As Thamel reports, he transferred to a local public high school, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, then back to St. Patrick’s, and finally finished his high school career at Notre Dame Prep on the advice of former Louisville assistant Steve Massielo, who believed the school would help get him eligible. Caracter cared at most next to nothing about school and his education. Thamel writes that Caracter would tell his coach at Scotch Plains-Fanwood that he did not understand why he needed to be in math class when he was just going to the NBA anyway.
Despite all of the attitude and discipline problems, it is hard to place all the blame on Caracter himself. Before he even reached high school, he had everyone and their mother telling him how great he was and how great he was going to be. His aunt dated a player agent, who lived with Caracter and was surely in his ear. His freshman year in high school, he was considered the top prospect in the country in a class that included Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. When someone that young and impressionable is coddled so much and glorified by all around him, it is not hard to see where the ego comes from and why his head ballooned to the size of Jupiter. He, of course, should not be given a pass simply because he was young, as he took advantage of every perk he could, whether it was within the rules or not. Thamel writes that he would show up to school with new watches or shoes and call Nike to ship him things. However, he definitely could have benefitted from some better guidance at an early age.
We all know his story at Louisville. When he was at his best, he was nearly unguardable. U of L fans saw him just abuse players like Aaron Gray and DeJuan Blair, and show off incredible post moves, great passing, and nice touch around the basket. However, we saw that all too rarely. He had no discipline on the court, had poor conditioning habits (he weighed 315 before coming to Louisville, where Pitino help slim him down) and got himself fouled out numerous times in minimal minutes with his streetball style of postplay. In his defense, it did seem refs would profile him as a hacker, and he did seem to get special attention during games. It would have been great to have him against North Carolina in the Elite 8, as where David Padgett was getting dominated by Tyler Hansbrough (who was allowed 87 fouls), Caracter was able to body him up and compete. However, he allegedly kicked a basketball in frustration (as he had done several times in practices) at halftime and Pitino pulled him the rest of the game. Pitino and he had a relationship that made George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin’s relationship seem rosy. Pitino kicked him off and brought him back on multiple times. He would praise him, then criticize him as a thorn in his side. He finally decided enough was enough, and when Caracter was deemed academically ineligible going into his Junior year, Pitino basically told him he was on his own, and if he got a job and got his grades back up, he could rejoin the team. He, of course, did not do that and ended up at UTEP under coach Tony Barbee after flirting with the NBA Draft and semi-pro leagues. He had a good year under Barbee, averaging 14.1 points per game and 8.1 rebounds and recording several double-doubles (stats courtesy of ESPN.com). He apparently enjoyed it there as well, telling Thamel El Paso, Texas was “like Miami without the beach.” Whatever you say, Derrick. Whatever makes the situation better.
When Barbee left to take the head coaching job at Auburn, Caracter took his shot at the NBA, and was rewarded by being picked by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers with the 58th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. The player who had been to three different high schools, butted heads with head coaches, and seemed to have no respect for education or authority, was now going to get a shot to play with Kobe Bryant for an NBA title for a team most kids grow up dreaming of playing for. Talent-wise, Caracter has about as much of it as any NBA power forward. Again, though, it is not his talent in question. He had the talent to get major minutes for the Lakers down the road, but a knee injury eventually forced him to spend time in the NBA D-League, where he averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in four games. Unfortunately, Caracter later took yet another great opportunity for granted, and while under the influence of alcohol, he allegedly assaulted a pregnant waitress at an IHOP after being refused service at 1:00 in the morning. He has not seen the league since.
Now, the king of getting second chances is getting yet another one from the Atlanta Hawks, and he insists he is changed for the better. According to Zagoria, he is a new man and admits the mistakes of his past, saying he would do a lot of things different given the opportunity. He told Zagoria his confidence is at an all-time high, and after his aunt was sadly dealing with brain and spinal cancer, he claims he found Jesus Christ and has become a better man for it. For Caracter’s sake, I hope he is right. It is hard to watch someone with so much talent and potential continually squander it away after so many opportunities. He should consider himself lucky he has had so many opportunities. Some kids screw up once and that is it for them. Caracter has had more chances than he probably deserves, and while it is not the Lakers, his chance with the Hawks is one he really needs to capitalize on. This is one opportunity he absolutely cannot mess up. He says he is a changed man and is ready to go to work. He better be. For someone who has had so many chances, this may very well be his last. Good luck to him and I wish him the best.