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A number of college coaches at the Nike camp said he could start for a Division I school, some even hinted at one of those schools being St. John’s. That’s where Caracter wants to go in 2006 mainly because of St. John’s coach Mike Jarvis, at least that’s what Caracter says now.
But he’s four years away from graduating high school. It’s a lifetime in a coach’s tenure. Who knows where Jarvis will be when the 2006 07 season rolls around.
And what if Caracter doesn’t grow another inch, or put on another pound of muscle? What if this man child turns out to simply be ahead of his peer group in developing physically?
While the consensous is he’d still be good enough to be a player, by no means is Caracter a finished product when it comes to Division I and beyond.
Still, forget about his age for a moment and try to visualize this: Caracter is tall enough to be here at 6 9, which is now considered a giant in an era of few big men. He’s one of only 19 players out of the 203 at the Nike Camp who were 6 9 or taller. His 286 pound frame was also bigger than all but three other players in the camp.
Now, back to his age. At 14, Caracter was one of two eighth graders invited by Nike (along with 5 8 point Demond Carter of Laplace, La.) a first for the prestigious camp. College coaches can’t comment specifically on Caracter or any other player, but the idea of having eighth graders on the court doesn’t bother coaches if it’s within reason.
“If you’ve got kids that look like they’re grown men, then it’s not too young (to invite them) because when they’re with kids they’re own age it’s a different world,” Indiana coach Mike Davis said.
And it must seem like Caracter comes from another planet to his fellow classmates. A story on Caracter ran last year in the Newark Star Ledger, and according to his mother Winnie Terry, the article resulted in friends asking Caracter for his sneakers and autographs. The problem, however, is Caracter would rather go see “Like Mike” than be like him in the real world. Caracter still wants to be a kid, just one of his friends who hangs out, goes to see movies and plays video games.
But his size and developing basketball career may have forced him to outgrow everything he used to do.
“I want to stay this size,” said Caracter (pronounced “Character” without the “h”). “I don’t want to grow no more. I was coming home from Friday and we went to McDonald’s and they had a play pen on the side and everyone was getting into the play pen and I’m the only one who couldn’t go in.”
On the court, Caracter does take his game seriously. He is more developed in the post and facing the basket than those big men who are three or four years older at the camp. He has a drop step move to the basket, can hit the step back 17 foot jumper and the occasional 3 pointer. He has a soft baby hook and his overall footwork and hands give him a base knowledge of how to play in the post.
“He has a lot of skills like foreign players have, like catching, facing, shooting and passing,” said St. Patrick’s coach Kevin Boyle, who known Caracter since he came to his St. Patrick camps as a fourth grader and will coach him officially for the first time in the fall. “He’s done a lot of those things growing up.”
“It’s fun to shoot and I like shooting a lot,” Caracter said Tuesday. “But I know it’s time to go inside to win games. I like to show that I’m not just a big man.”
“He’s dying to play guard,” said his mother, who travels with him and critiques his games, his moves and his overall work ethic. “He’s big for that. But he keeps reminding me of Magic and he can play the wing position. He wants to be a well rounded player.”
Caracter was so nervous about being invited to the camp that he sought out a personal trainer in their neighborhood after meeting with a nutritionist at the NBA Players Association camp in Virginia in June. Terry said it was her son’s idea and that he wanted to get in shape for the camp because he was worried that the players would be bigger or stronger than him.
That wasn’t the case. Instead, Caracter got good advice from the trainer on how to diet and slim down. But it doesn’t always work. Remember, he’s still just 14.
“He puts himself on a diet,
even though it’s one of the strangest diets,” said the 5 8 Terry, who was at the camp watching Caracter with her daughter, too, 5 7 12 year old Briana a dancer turn basketball player within the last year. “Derrick may pull out a slim fast. But then I’ll see him turn on the grill and all of a sudden he has a hamburger. He says, ‘Ah mom, come on.'”
Boyle said he would like to see Caracter drop 20 pounds before his freshman season at St. Patrick’s. And he wants him to play lower, not so straight up and easier to defend.
“He has the skill and the work ethic, and our school has the commitment to the athletic and academic side,” Boyle said. “He also has to turn the intensity knob from five to seven or eight. Playing here is giving him a good taste but now he’s thirsty to get better.”
Boyle said with Caracter playing at a high intensity, there is no reason St. Patrick’s shouldn’t have the potential to beat any other high school team in the country.
“He could be as good as any of the high school players we have played against like Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Antwan Jamison and Stephon Marbury,” Boyle said. “He has the potential to be as good as those or better but it’s just potential.”
But Boyle was to quick to point out former St. John’s player Wayne McCoy, a highly touted prep player who didn’t develop the rest of his game when he didn’t continue to grow after dominating the competition at an early age.
“I understand why it’s done, but when young kids are invited, my concern is that the young kids get such an inflated sense of their importance at an early age. And there’s only one way to go (down),” said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. “Legends become monsters, and as a parent and former high school coach, that’s my biggest concern.”
That doesn’t appear to be an issue for Caracter and those involved in his life in his mother and sister. He’s humble enough, talking about writing poetry, journals about his experiences, and his stuffed animal an orangutan named “Ollie” that used to bring to games.
“I’m really surprised by ESPN,” Caracter said of the attention. “I never thought I would be on ESPN going into high school, maybe going into college. It’s funny.”
Playing with Loul Deng, the top player at the camp, gave him exposures to the highest profile coaches at Duke, Oklahoma and Missouri. And now that they’ve seen him, the interest will only increase.
“College coaches don’t have to check out 8th graders because they can’t get them until they’re four years older anyway. And under the NCAA rules, the only thing they can do is send mail,” Boyle said. “But any 9th grader over 6 5 gets mail from all over the country once he’s on a list. But at the same point, there aren’t many guys who come around with his size and ability. If he were 6 4 (at age 14), he’d be a player who wouldn’t belong here right now.”