After long hiatus, Caracter shows signs he could salvage career
Dec. 17, 2009
By Gary Parrish
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
SOUTHAVEN, Miss. -- The first thing I noticed about Derrick Caracter was the mohawk.
He has a nicely developed mohawk.
I like it.
The second thing I noticed?
Same thing Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy noticed, actually.
"He's just a physical beast," Kennedy said late Wednesday, right after his 20th-ranked Rebels rallied to force overtime, then pulled away for a 91-81 win over Caracter and the UTEP Miners here at the Desoto Civic Center. "He's so big and so strong. He's just a handful."
UTEP is 5-0 without Derrick Caracter.
And 0-2 with him.
That's what many will mention about Caracter's return to college basketball, and I suppose it's fair to mention because, well, it's true. The record doesn't lie. There's no way around it. But as someone who sat courtside and watched Caracter get 15 points and 15 rebounds in 32 minutes against Ole Miss, I can tell you with a degree of certainty that he's not the reason UTEP lost its past two games.
But he might be why UTEP wins Conference USA.
To be clear, I'm not predicting UTEP will win C-USA.
Memphis could win it. Or Tulsa. Or Southern Miss. Or Marshall. Or even UAB, which beat No. 25 Cincinnati on Wednesday. C-USA really might be the most wide-open league in the country. It should be a fun race to watch unfold. But if UTEP does win C-USA -- and I do believe it's possible despite the fact that I just watched the Miners blow a 12-point lead with less than four minutes remaining against Ole Miss -- there's no question Caracter will be a major reason. Is he what he was once projected to become? Of course not. And he'll never be that considering Caracter was at one time regarded as the best prospect in a high school class that included Kevin Durant, Greg Oden, Ty Lawson, Thaddeus Young and 17 others who have already made it to the NBA.
Clearly, things haven't gone as planned.
It has been a well-publicized and remarkable fall from stardom.
But Caracter is still a large human with skills, and he displayed that against Ole Miss in a way that left NBA scouts in attendance skeptical but intrigued. Understand, this was only Caracter's second game since he played in Louisville's loss to North Carolina in the Elite Eight on March 29, 2008, and he got 15 and 15 against a nationally ranked opponent. He scored on spin moves in the paint, and on tip-ins. He smiled a lot, looked comfortable and relaxed.
In other words, he took Earl Clark's advice.
"I talked to Earl before the game," Caracter said, noting that he still speaks with his former Louisville teammate (who is now with the Phoenix Suns) frequently. "He just told me to relax. He said, 'You've been doing this all your life. Just play ball.' "
So that's what Caracter did.
Did he turn the ball over too much?
Did he miss a crucial putback late?
Did he look rusty at times?
But at other times, he looked like a dominant college post player, somebody who could lead C-USA in rebounding and challenge for league honors. There were undeniable flashes. So while no NBA person left the game ready to spend a first-round pick on Caracter (or at least none I spoke with), one scout told me it's still realistic to expect Caracter to play in the NBA someday, and to a man the NBA people acknowledged Caracter was much better than they anticipated given that, again, it was only his second game since March 2008.
"I felt good," Caracter said. "It feels good to be back on that court."
That he's "back on that court" is a remarkable story by itself, and not one most expected to read. Honestly, raise your hand if you ever really thought you would read a column about Caracter again playing college basketball after Rick Pitino basically pushed the 6-foot-9 forward out of the Louisville program following two up-and-down/filled-with-drama seasons. Now put your hand down, because you're lying.
You didn't expect it.
I didn't expect.
UTEP coach Tony Barbee might've been the lone person who expected it.
"He could have gone overseas when he left Louisville and got a hundred-thousand-dollar-a-year job because he's that good of a player, and his reputation would earn him that kind of income," Barbee said. "But Derrick said he wanted to go back to college and prove people wrong. To me, that said something. So now here he is with an opportunity to prove people wrong."
Whether Caracter will fully seize the opportunity remains unclear.
Lest we forget, he has messed up before.
So nobody will be shocked if he messes up again.
But Wednesday night still offered hope.
UTEP lost to Ole Miss, sure.
But Derrick Caracter had a big game and looked good doing it.
If the goal is to prove people wrong, he might well be on his way.
For more from Gary Parrish, check him out on Twitter: @GaryParrishCBS
Thank God. I really hope this kid makes it. I remember seeing him at ABCD Camp against Oden, and he was really the only guy at that camp who dominated Oden. I'm not lying he scored at will against Oden using his strength, ball handling, and super nice spin move. He still has crazy potential and if he can average a double double, stay out of trouble, and the Miners maybe win Conference USA or atleast come close to it I see no reason why an NBA team wouldn't draft him. This guy is so damn good