Here’s an observation that won’t please the legions of Duke haters who react with glee anytime something sullies Mike Krzyzewski’s all-too-pristine image.
Some of the jabs that Wendell Carter’s parents threw at the Duke coach this week don’t hold up especially well under close scrutiny.
In an SI.com article published Monday, Carter’s outspoken mother took a thinly veiled shot at the way Duke used her son while criticizing the NCAA’s system of amateurism for treating players “like a piece of property.”
“In college, you have no voice,” Kylia Carter said. “It’s a system set up that they drop you in and tell you what to do—you be a rebounder, shot-blocker, you take all the shots, nobody else can shoot. My child never got to show his full set of skills. He never got to do that.”
The Carters went even harder at Duke in a story published Tuesday by NBC Sports Chicago. They claimed to have felt misled after the Duke staff allegedly told Carter he would be the team’s primary big man while recruiting him and then later added heralded forward Marvin Bagley III and instead made him their frontcourt centerpiece.
“My initial reaction, I was pissed,” Kylia Carter said. “And it wasn’t pissed because Marvin was coming. To be honest, I felt like that was information that was kept from us. It felt (shady); it felt like my baby was going to get kicked to the curb. I felt like all of that.”
Said Wendell’s father, Wendell Sr. “I was concerned because I felt like we were lied to. ‘Oh, Wendell’s gonna be the man’ and then the rug was pulled from under us.”
If Kylia and Wendell Sr. wanted a warning from Krzyzewski that Bagley was coming before their son chose Duke, then they were seeking the impossible. Carter signed a letter of intent in Nov. 2016, roughly nine months before Bagley announced he was not only committing to Duke but also graduating high school a year early and reclassifying to join the Blue Devils’ 2017 recruiting class. Krzyzewski is a supremely gifted coach, but not even he can predict the future.
If the Carters wanted Duke to pass on Bagley because they had already signed Wendell, then they were being naive. You’re talking about a surefire lottery pick who had every prominent college coach in the country flocking to his games on the AAU circuit since he was in ninth grade. There’s no coach in America who would decline interest from a player with Bagley’s talent.
The only legitimate criticism the Carters could have of Duke is not keeping them in the loop about the possibility that Bagley could play alongside Wendell.
There has been talk of Bagley potentially reclassifying since early 2016, but Bagley’s dad repeatedly denied that it would happen. Marvin Bagley II told reporters for months that he doubted it would be possible for his son to do enough coursework to satisfy NCAA minimum eligibility standards in time for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
When did Duke first feel confident that it would not only land Bagley but also get him a year earlier than anticipated? And how open was Krzyzewski with Carter about the potential for his role to change if that happened? That’s not entirely clear. A Duke spokesman declined comment to Yahoo Sports on Wednesday and Carter’s AAU coach did not respond to a message seeking further clarity.
What is clear is that Bagley’s presence at Duke did little to damage Carter’s NBA stock or prevent him from showcasing his talents.
The Chicago Bulls selected Carter seventh overall last week after he averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds for a Duke team that finished the season No. 5 in the AP poll and was one shot away from reaching the Final Four. Not only did Carter draw praise for his defensive prowess in the middle of Duke’s 2-3 zone, the 6-foot-10 forward also had the freedom on offense to hoist threes, to post up opposing defenders and to run pick-and-rolls.
The four February games that Bagley missed due to injury provide the strongest evidence of how playing alongside another heralded big man affected Carter’s production. Without Bagley on the floor, Carter attempted 11.8 shots per game and averaged 16.3 points on 46.8 percent shooting. Carter took 8.5 shots per game in Duke’s 14 other ACC contests and averaged 13.6 points on 58 percent shooting.
Was there a difference for Carter going from sidekick to centerpiece? To some extent. Is it that big a deal? Not really.
The reality is that practicing every day against Bagley probably did Carter more good than playing alongside him did harm, something that he has frequently acknowledged. When asked about Bagley in the SI.com story, Carter said, “That’s my boy” and noted that the future No. 2 overall NBA draft pick inspired him every day to work even harder.
Carter also took the time to respond on Twitter when ESPN analyst Dick Vitale accused his family of jealousy toward Bagley.
i don’t usually respond to things like this but mr. vitale … you are wrong. all love ! no jealousy and marvin and his family knows that. why are you trying to tear us down ?
— Wendell Carter Jr (@wendellcarter34) June 27, 2018
Naturally, it’s the youngest Carter who emerges looking best from this spat. The situation at Duke was different than what he expected when he signed, but he adapted to it, he sacrificed willingly and he thrived, affirming or even boosting his stock among NBA scouts.
In other words, playing alongside Bagley didn’t diminish Carter’s value. In the end it may have even helped him.
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