DeMarre Carroll recalls the day back in 2008 when he first heard that he had a rare liver disease. It was not long after both of his grandmothers had passed away ... in the span of two months.
Carroll was going into his senior year at Missouri with the dream of an NBA career now in the balance. He felt like the walls were closing in and life was coming down on him. He already had to deal with the loss of his five-year old brother, who had a brain tumor. With all that in mind, this new diagnosis of liver disease deeply affected him and not just physically.
“When I was first diagnosed, I thought my life was over,” Carroll told NetsDaily at The Carroll Family Foundation event for liver disease awareness. “I sat in my room for a week. I didn’t go to college practice. I thought it was over.”
But it was neither the end of his career or his life. He says his entire family played a big role in pushing him through, but his father gave him the boost he needed.
“My dad is a preacher and he always told me to take it one day at a time, cherish my life, cherish the opportunity I have and be a blessing for not only myself but for others. Every time I step onto the court or in the community, I know I’m not doing it for me. I can care less about DeMarre. I care about helping this young kid or whoever it is that needs help,” he said.
This week, in between games at Barclays, Carroll hosted an event to raise awareness for liver disease with head coach Kenny Atkinson, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris on hand, among others. His Carroll Family Foundation sponsored the event to raise money to help children with liver disease.
“I focus on Pediatrics because kids got a lot of life left in them. You can become an NBA player, you can become an NFL player, you can be whatever you want to be,” Carroll explained. “I sit around and I can cry but I gotta be strong for my kids. I let them know that dad is OK, dad is alright.”
Carroll played through the liver disease at Mizzou taking medication pushing through. In 2009, he was drafted in the first round by the Grizzlies. He had beaten the diagnosis and the despair. It’s why he’s now become an influential leader not just in Brooklyn’s locker room, but in the fight against a debilitating disease.
“There is so much more to DeMarre than people get to see,” Atkinson told NetsDaily. “Everybody sees the toughness and competitor in him, but he’s really a kind-hearted guy. The Carroll Family Foundation is a big part of who he is. It strikes dear to his heart and to include us in something that affects him and his family on such a personal level.”
Prior to his gig in Brooklyn, Atkinson was an assistant with the Hawks, working closely with players like Carroll on player development. The two grew close and became what they call one another: family. Carroll introduced Atkinson into “Team Carroll,” which serves as Carroll’s informal inner circle, back during the 2013-2014 season,
“To include us... you and everybody here just shows the kind of guy that he is. He’s charismatic, he’s social, he’s a connector and that’s what he’s doing with us. In the locker room, connecting young guys and being the veteran leader. We hear leadership a lot, but this is authentic leadership. He backs it up with how competitive he is and how hard he works.”
Several Nets, including Atkinson and Carroll, used the words “home” and “family” repeatedly when discussing one another. It’s about the trust he’s developed with players on and off the court, not to mention the respect he’s earned among his peers. Especially the younger players.
“Seeing what DeMarre does for the community and for us in the locker room… it’s amazing,” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “DeMarre’s a great guy, very respectable, genuine, has an awesome smile (laughs) … man I look at him like a big brother. He’s someone I can talk to about whatever. For him to be doing this and to be going through this, it’s great to see him standing strong and showing kids that there’s a way.”
Hollis-Jefferson, 22, has been playing the best ball of his three-year career. He, too, has become a leader in the Nets’ locker room. Carroll is both a model and a mentor.
“He just keeps talking to me, he stays in my corner and believes in me. He gives me hope, being a 6-7 guy who needed to become more of an offensive threat. That’s something that stood out about his transition and we talk about that. We talk about life, we talk about family. That’s what it’s all about. How can you give back to the next generation?”
Hollis-Jefferson and Carroll’s lockers are next to one another —in Markinson world, there are no coincidences. As a result, the two have grown together, two jell guys who are the heart and soul of this team. Caris LeVert thinks so.
LeVert, 23, is Brooklyn’s other hopeful rising star who’s become a perfect fit for the hard-working, team-oriented and high-character culture that Brooklyn is going for. He follows the footsteps of Carroll to better himself. LeVert explained how he and Carroll met in Las Vegas Summer League, where Caris was participating and Carroll was watching and training, having just arrived after being traded from the Raptors.
“Ever since I’ve known him he’s been the same way,” said LeVert. “He’s a real, genuine, unselfish person. He’ll look out of for me and the rest of the young guys on the team. He has a big heart and he talks to everybody. He’s one of those guys that can walk into a room and literally talk to anybody about anything. He just cares about people that much.”
LeVert went on to explain how he’s struggled at times, but Carroll is there to pick lift his spirits and put things into perspective.
“DeMarre’s in my ear every day. He knows the type of work I put in over the summer and he knows at times this season I haven’t played my best. He’s always there to encourage me and lets me know that it’s still early in the season, early in my career and that he believes in me. For somebody like DeMarre, who’s already established in the league, to tell you how much he believes in you… it’s been a really big help for me and it has been all year.”
Those last few sentences stand out and represent how Carroll transitions his personality from off-the-court values to his play. He believes in helping people. His slogan for The Carroll Family Foundation is “We Believe,” and it stands true for all the things he values in life. Little things that keep him going by staying positive and taking life day-by-day the way his father taught him.
After telling his story, Carroll recites a familiar line from J. Cole.
“Beauty in the struggle, man. Life took me through a lot of obstacles, but right now I’ve learned to cherish my family and cherish every individual every day. I can’t take one day for granted.”