Frank Martin believes in developing stars, not signing them.
It's a good thing, too. If he didn't, Michael Carrera may never have arrived at South Carolina, the last (and least heralded) of the Gamecocks' 4-man signing class. Instead, the 6'5" freshman from Anzoategui, Venezuela, has become an instant fan favorite, charming Colonial Life Arena crowds with his hustle, charisma, and knack for tough scoring.
In his first career game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Carrera posted 17 points and 15 rebounds, the first double-double by a Gamecock freshman since 2008. Then, after a concussion sidelined him for three games, he sank a three-pointer as time expired to force overtime against Missouri State. Through it all, Carrera has peppered his play with a flair not often seen from a wet-behind-the-ears freshman.
Michael Carrera (left) has endeared himself to Gamecock fans with his hustle and outsized personality.
His game may blue-collar, but Michael Carrera wears it with style.
It begs the question: how did such a productive player slip through the major-college cracks? It's not as though Martin discovered him, Blue Chips-style, in some basketball backwater. Carrera averaged a double-double his senior year at Montrose Christian School, a respected basketball powerhouse in Rockville, Md., that counts Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant among its alumni. He also has good basketball bloodlines: his father, Luis, played professionally in Venezuela, in the same league where Gamecock assistant Lamont Evans once played.
Yet when the Class of 2012 rankings were released, Carrera garnered only a two-star rating from ESPN.com. Rivals.com didn't even rank him. Perhaps, at 6'5," he wasn't tall enough to project as a power forward at the high-major level. Perhaps he hadn't played long enough in the United States - Carrera came in 2009 -- to establish himself on the AAU circuit.
None of that deterred Martin when he signed Carrera in late July. He loved his 7'2" wingspan (Martin believes in length more than height). He was enamored with his hustle. As for his lack of "star" power, Martin compared him to a pair of players he coached at Miami Senior High School in Miami, Fla.
Frank Martin invoked the names of two NBA players when describing Carrera's under-the-radar nature.
"There are two guys that I'm going to use who all the so-called experts that rank players, and all this other nonsense, said neither are good enough: Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Last time I checked, both are in their 10th year in the NBA, and both led their team to [NCAA] national championship games," Martin said on a recent edition of "Carolina Calls."
"I care about kids that want to win and want to compete. It's not our job to listen to what other people's opinions are of other players. It's for us to find players who fit who we are, and our personalities."
So far, Carrera's stats (10.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg) have outshined his stars. As his freshman year progresses, Martin says he'd like to see him use his energy more responsibly. Too often, an early second or third foul has chased Carrera to the bench, turning into an idle (but still animated) spectator. Carrera and center R.J. Slawson are the two most foul-prone starters in the SEC, a big handicap for a team that's undersized in most of its matchups.
Most Foul-Prone Starters - SEC
Player Team FC/40*
1. R.J. Slawson SC 7.8
2. Michael Carrera SC 7.5
3. Ray Turner TAMU 6.0
Eddie Ludwig LSU 6.0
(as of December 5)
*-FC/40: Fouls Committed per 40 minutes
"He can't allow the emotion of the game to get him so wrapped up in the moment that he can't listen, and get himself ready for the next moment. That's the case with all young players," Martin said.
As long as he can channel his energy wisely, Carrera will continue to gain notice at South Carolina - something that seemed elusive even a few months ago.
More early-season notes as the Gamecocks head toward their December exam break:
High Percentage, High Reward: One of the most drastic upswings in the Gamecock offense? Last year, the Gamecocks only scored 58% of their points in those characteristic high-percentage areas of the paint or the free-throw line.
This season, aided by Frank Martin's high post-heavy offense, the Gamecocks have raised their percentage to 68%.
% of Points In Paint or at FT line
That's an average of 13 more points per game from the paint or foul line than the Gamecocks averaged last year. It's a promising development for a team that will often play with a height disadvantage.
Tough Kid: Nobody can question Brenton Williams' toughness. The junior from Kissimmee, Fla., suffered a nasty fall on a dribble-drive against St. John's Nov. 29, causing him to be carried off on a stretcher. After X-rays proved negative, Williams was released from a New York City hospital that night, and rejoined the team bus at the LaGuardia Airport tarmac - while still in full uniform.
Join us throughout the season for more stats, notes, previews, and anecdotes on Gamecock basketball. Thanks for diving "Inside The Chart" with us. -AD--