April 8, 2012.
In the second quarter of a game against the then 40-14 San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz starting forward CJ Miles left with 5:43 to go until halftime. Miles had injured his calf, did not return, and did not play another game during the 2011-12 season.
Enter DeMarre Carroll, then in his third year and on his fourth team.
Carroll came off the bench to light up the Spurs for 16 points in 18 minutes on 6-of-8 shooting from the field, including a 3-of-4 display from three.
Carroll was +13 in the 10-point loss and cemented himself into the Jazz rotation that night. Prior to that showing, Carroll had averaged 3.0 points in his only 14 season appearances to that point, and scored one … one total point in his previous four games accumulating only 38 minutes of play.
“Next man up” is how Carroll got the opportunity to prove himself as an NBA player.
Before that moment, the Net forward, now in his ninth year and on his seventh team, had been a fringe swingman who had been a late first-round pick in 2009. He vividly remembers the garbage time showings, which spanned those first three seasons, and plenty of DNP-CD’s written next to his name. He even remembers not only not coming off the bench, but not even being on the bench at all to eventually come off and play.
“I tell my story all the time of when I was in Utah and I was behind the bench,” Carroll recollected on Tuesday after Nets practice. “Some of these guys are actually dressed and out sitting on the bench. I was behind the bench – and then all the sudden I got thrown in against San Antonio and that’s when I kind of made my name.”
From then on, Carroll started each of the remaining nine regular season games, before coming off the bench for healthy rotation minutes in the playoffs (around 18 minutes per contest in a four-game sweep to the Spurs).
Current Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, a Spurs assistant at the time, brought Carroll to Atlanta in the summer of 2013 based on that breakout performance, and a decent 2012-13. In Atlanta, where Carroll became a success, he also met his current head coach, Kenny Atkinson, then a top assistant and a development guy.
He became ‘DeMarre from Atlanta’, and he feels the need to remind his teammates of those humble beginnings in an effort to push all the guys on the squad, many of whom were unaware of Carroll’s initial bench time and emergence.
“It’s crazy because these guys are so young,” Carroll, 31, says of his teammates, who have a median age of 25.35 collectively, 10th in the NBA. “You talk to them and they just remember DeMarre from Atlanta, the 60-win team, playoff DeMarre, but they don’t remember the hard times.
“Sometimes I have to let them know. I’ve been waived by Houston, Denver, and went to Utah and sat behind the bench. I was on the edge of being out the league. I had the opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Now, Carroll has been through the tribulations of being a near cast-off to a starter and significant contributor on a 60-win team He’s also battled injuries, which caused a decline in his play over his last seasons in Toronto. For Brooklyn, Carroll is almost a “see it all, done it all” type of leader.
And although It’s early, the Missouri alum says he’s found a lot to enjoy in Brooklyn.
“It’s another obstacle in my career I haven’t been through and I feel like it’s a great obstacle,” he said. “It kind of rejuvenates me. It motivates me to go back to my Atlanta style type of basketball and be who I was when I was back there. It’s great, man. They’re pushing me and I’m pushing them. I just have to keep doing my part as a leader, on and off the court – they kind of give me that spirit. They give you that glow back about yourself. I’m excited and I love it.”
Specifically, he loves the Brooklyn youth, culture and energy.
“These guys get up and down. They come in the locker room, they’re laughing, they’re listening to the young music, like Lil’ Uzi (Vert) and Lil’ Yachty,” he said with a smile, later citing he preferred Future and 2 Chainz. “Sometimes I have to remember I have kids – they’ll be like ‘hey, after practice I’m’ going to get something to eat. I’m finna run to your house, Rondae, and play video games.’ I’ll be realizing I could go there, but I’ve got to go home, I’ve got three kids,” he adds with a laugh.
The youth, culture and energy has even been felt on the consoles, according to Carroll.
“I feel like they got me back playing video games now,” Carroll said, grinning. “You could see on my Instagram I’m always posting video games. I think I stopped playing video games two years ago but I’m back playing them and kind of giving these guys a run for their money.”
Both Atkinson and teammate Quincy Acy also spoke on Carroll’s importance to the current crop of Nets, citing his leadership, and overall impact on and off the floor.
“That’s why DeMarre’s leadership is so important,” said Atkinson. “He’s not a guy that’s been a big star. He’s kind of been the guy not playing, the guy in the G-league, he’s experienced that and those guys can relate to him. He can relate to them. He’s kind of a rags-to-riches story. It’s great for our authentic leadership. It’s not some guy who comes on a max contract and been anointed the star from the beginning. He’s a humble leader.”
“He’s meant a lot,” Acy added, echoing Atkinson. “He’s our leader, he’s our veteran, and he talks to us in timeouts when things are rough. He’s just a great locker room guy to be around. He shows it on the court, he doesn’t just talk it. He plays both ends real hard and I think that’s contagious.”
In Carroll’s mind, he’s found a home.
When the Nets acquired him over the summer, the feeling in the organization was that Carroll was going to be one of the focal points of this team and organization in every aspect. Fans and pundits may have seen him as a salary dump, a way for Sean Marks to get not one but two picks in the 2018 Draft.
Carroll was the first Net mentioned by Marks over the summer when discussing leadership.
But when it comes to where he’s at now, perhaps there’s no one better to sum everything up than Carroll himself who also said Tuesday: “I’m excited to be here. Hopefully it’s the beginning of many years in Brooklyn.”
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is one of his best, if not his best season. His 13.4 scoring would be the best in his career, as would his 6.8 rebounds. His 35.4 percent shooting from deep has tailed off a bit lately, hurt particularly by his 0-of-6 line Wednesday night, but he showed he could still fill the buck in October when he hit a blistering 42.4 percent.
And to think, it all started by being the “next man up.” Otherwise, who knows where Carroll would’ve been today.
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