“A real guard, he’s gonna look right back at me and say, ‘What’s up?'” says Aquille. “But when he looked down, I smiled because I already knew that I’d won the battle.”
Two days before the state semifinals, while Baltimore is blanketed by a thick fog and intense rainstorm, Carr is sweating profusely at the Carmelo Anthony Youth Development Center. In the midst of an intense workout with Coach Bell and two other coaches and mentors, Kendrix Gibson and Darrick Oliver of the Team Melo program, Carr toils as if he’s fighting for his team’s last roster spot.
With a parachute attached to his waist, then resistance bands as Gibson trails behind, he sprints up and down the court, dribbling a heavy ball with his right, then left, then back to two balls at a time.
Carr backpedals from the baseline to half court at full speed, sprints forward, catches bullet passes and pulls up for long-range jumpers. “Use your legs,” says Oliver. “Shoot over the top, soft,” says Gibson. “Raise up!” says Bell. At various intervals, all of the coaches scream, “Good posture! Be consistent! Legs! LEGS!”
“We’re always in the gym,” says Gibson. “By him having a jump shot, he knows there’s no way that anybody can play him, so he’s working on it every day. He calls me all the time, at night and on the weekends and says the same thing, ‘Open the gym and let’s go work out.'”
At the University of Maryland’s sparkling Comcast Center, right before tip-off of the state championship game against North Point High School, big John Thompson â€“ the legendary former Georgetown coach â€“ saunters slowly into the media seating section. Before sitting, he bellows to an old acquaintance, “I came to see Aquille!”
Carr scores seven first-half points, but it is easily not his best performance. North Point’s talented, quick guards are being extremely physical with him. Missing shots that he normally makes, he continues to drive tenaciously toward the rim as the refs seem hesitant to use their whistles.
Late in the first quarter, the North Point fans yell in unison, “HOW OLD ARE YOU? HOW OLD ARE YOU?” and Carr unleashes his mega-watt smile.
“I repeated the first grade after being home schooled, so I’m a year behind my normal class,” says an amused Aquille. “I think it’s funny when people in the crowd say that, like it’s supposed to make me upset. They act like I’m a 21-year-old sophomore. I’ll be 18 years old when I start my senior year of high school.”
In the second half, he scores 20, fights ferociously against 6-6 opponents for rebounds and zips delectable passes to his teammates, but it’s not enough to deliver Patterson’s first state title.
“I heard this was his worst game of the season, but I’m looking up at the scoreboard and he has 27 points,” says University of Maryland guard and interested courtside observer Pe’Shon Howard. “His effort is incredible. At his size, to carry a team on his back the way he does is special.”
“His courage is the biggest thing that impressed me,” adds Thompson. “Any time you have a kid that young, who’s that aggressive and skilled, you can project that he’s going to be a great, great player.”
As the final horn sounds, Carr looks shocked, hurt and confused. He crumples to the hardwood and pulls his jersey over his head. He lies on the floor, his body convulsing, tears cascading down his face. Coaxed toward the bench for the trophy ceremony, he rests his head on folded arms, his chest heaving.
In the postgame press conference, with deep, sad crimson eyes, he answers every reporter’s question thoughtfully, sincerely and respectfully.
“They’re a good, physical, defensive team and they send a lot of defenders at you to double,” says Carr about the victorious North Point squad. “I played my hardest, but I didn’t play my best, and you have to give credit to their defense for that.”
What he neglects to mention, a fact unknown to anyone outside of his teammates, coaches and family, is that he played the game on one good leg, suffering a severe calf strain days before.
He exits the press conference, surrounded by his coaches and teammates, stepping gingerly through the arena’s bowels. There is no noise, other than the whir of the overhead ventilation system. He walks with a slight, pained limp on the plush carpet outside of the Maryland locker room. He never lifts his eyes to admire the framed NBA jerseys of former Terps like Steve Francis, Greivis Vasquez, Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, and Joe Smith.