Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
After ‘Humbling & Humiliating’ Few Months, Caracter Hoping to Make it Back to the NBA
At this time of year, with the July AAU evaluation period about to begin, Derrick Caracter could serve as a tremendous cautionary tale for all the young grassroots want-to-be-stars out there.
A 6-foot-8 man-child from Fanwood, N.J., Caracter was once considered a surefire NBA lottery pick after his performances at Sonny Vaccaro’s old ABCD Camp in Hackensack, N.J..
“He was always much bigger than the other players at a young age,” Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, who has known Caracter since he was 12, told SNY.tv Tuesday.
“He matured early. A lot of people thought he was going to be the next Shaquille O’Neal because of his body type and he was so athetlic at 6-foot-8 when he was in ninth, 10th grade.”
But Caracter never did make it to the NBA Draft lottery. His time at Louisville was marked by clashes with head coach Rick Pitino over his weight, conditioning and attitude, and he ultimately finished his career at UTEP.
The Los Angeles Lakers selected him with the No. 58 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, but Caracter never made it big in Hollywood.
Caracter is now hoping to work his way back into the NBA by playing on the Atlanta Hawks summer league team. Atlanta opens action Thursday in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas against Washington.
“I’m definitely down a different path now,” the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Caracter, 24, told SNY.tv from the training room at Hawks camp Tuesday.
“These past six months have just been very humbling and humiliating at the same time. I appreciate it and I’ve always had the never quit attitude, so it’s been an experience and I just continue to look forward and I’m very optimistic on what’s going to come next.”
He is in Hawks camp along with several of his former Big East mates, including his former Louisville teammate Jerry Smith, Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell and Pittsburgh’s Brad Wanamaker.
“[We are] just trying to accomplish some dreams up here and make some money for our families,” Caracter said.
His time with the Lakers was hardly storybook.
During the 2010-11 season, he averaged just 2.0 points and 1.0 rebound per game. In April 2011, he was arrested in New Orleans after reportedly “grabbing and pulling” a pregnant waitress. He was booked into jail on charges of battery, public drunkenness and resisting arrest.
Caracter then spent several stints in the D-League before tearing his lateral meniscus during practice last December.
After another stint in the D-League, Caracter was waived by the Lakers in February. He ended up playing for Mets de Guaynabo, a team in Puerto Rico, but was released after two weeks.
“Mentally, I think I could’ve done some things differently off the court [with the Lakers],” Caracter said. “I think a lot of things with my attitude off the court, I was really focused on the wrong things instead of just focusing on my game and what’s really important.”
Still, Caracter says his confidence is “at an all-time high” in part because he has a newfound spirituality after discovering Jesus Christ this past May.
“Honestly, Mother’s Day 2012, I was touched by Jesus,” Caracter said. “My aunt was dealing with brain cancer and spinal cancer and some things like that….She’ll pull through hopefully. I believe she will.”
Caracter said he experienced a powerful transformation that caused him to break down in tears while at a church in Sarasota, Fla.
“This time when I was touched it was a weeping,” Caracter said. “I closed my eyes and I was standing in this church and my body started to break down and weep and I had never cried that way. In my head, I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t deny it…My body, my soul was weeping.”
Caracter said he now has a couple of trustworthy mentors — as well as his agent, Happy Walters — whom he now runs things by when he needs to.
Caracter also worked out with Enfield, the coach at Florida Gulf Coast and a former assistant with the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks, for several weeks recently in Fort Myers, Fla.
“For his size, he moves exceptionally well and he’s in shape,” said Enfield, who has known Caracter since he was 12. “He’s naturally very strong. And in my opinion, he’s an NBA player if he’s in great physical condition.”
He added: “Derrick is very talented and has just a great physical body, NBA-ready when he’s in shape. I think it’s up to Derrick to make sure he stays in the condition necessary to give himself a chance.”
Caracter said he trusts his current mentors more than the people who influenced him during his tumultuous time at St. Patrick, Scotch Plains-Fanwood and Notre Dame Prep.
Asked about recent St. Pat’s products Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 1 and 2 picks in the last two NBA Drafts, respectively, Caracter said they had better advisors than he did.
“When they say college is the most important decision in life, in your career, that’s very true,” he said. “At the time, the guys who I had leading my camp are no longer leading my camp, no longer making my decisions. I’m making my own decisions in my life.”
After all he’s been through, Caracter believes he’s not a cautionary tale for young players, but is instead in the midst of a transformation that will take him to new heights.
“I feel amazing,” he said. “I feel great mentally, physically. I’m going to be more than ready to go for summer league.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.