When the University of Texas-El Paso jumped into the Top 25 poll for the first time in 18 years, college basketball fans everywhere took note of the new kids on the block. The Miners made the Big Dance as the #12 seed in the West Regional, and although there was no magical 12-over-5 upset this time around, as UTEP fell to Butler in its opening game, no Miner stood out more in that matchup than junior Derrick Caracter.
Maybe it was the goofy mohawk shaved into his oversized head. Maybe it was the surprisingly agile feet for a man of nearly 300 pounds. Or maybe it was the 20-point, 9-rebound stat line that had fans scouring Google to read up on the 6-9, 270-pound forward out of Fanwood, N.J.
And what a story they would find.
No one thought it would take Derrick Caracter this long to declare for the NBA Draft when he first committed to Rick Pitino and Louisville as a high school senior. By all accounts, he was a can’t-miss prospect with serious talent, one who had been on the radars of nearly every major college program coach since junior high. But despite his undeniable talent, Caracter had long been criticized for a lack of effort and inability to control his weight. Sure enough, as many predicted after multiple transfers and suspensions throughout his high school career, the newest Cardinal would become a gigantic headache for Pitino.
Showing up to campus as a freshman weighing in at a robust 315 pounds, and told he couldn’t play until he dropped to 265, Caracter began a two-year UL stint marred by more behavioral problems, a lack of hustle, and multiple suspensions. Caracter was suspended for the first three games of his freshman year when it was revealed he had taken an illegal loan from a family friend while in high school. And though he displayed flashes of the potential that earned him his five-star rating, including a 16-point performance in a game against UConn that had fans salivating over his future, Caracter’s effort and drive would soon taper off. He was suspended again by mid-December, and finished his first year averaging a mediocre 8.1 points, and only twice making the starting lineup. A 24-point, 11-rebound effort against BYU in the fourth game of his sophomore year had fans thinking he had finally turner the corner. But when Caracter was suspended indefinitely in December 2007 after breaking team rules, his behavior had become too much of a detriment to the Cardinals. When Caracter became academically ineligible at the end of the year, Pitino dismissed him. “I’ve never seen anyone so far behind in the game of life,” Pitino said about his former prized recruit.
Which brings us to here and now, as Caracter prepares himself for the NBA Draft and life as a professional. Caracter enjoyed a pleasantly surprising year of suspension-free basketball for UTEP coach Tony Barbee, putting up 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. In leading his squad to the NCAA Tournament, Caracter’s game was marked by a drive and determination that was nowhere to be found in Louisville. And though scouts may doubt whether he truly has the maturity to be successful in the NBA, Derrick Caracter has always had the raw skill to compete. On June 24th, we’ll find out whether that will be enough.