July 26, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Michael Carrera never had a doubt that he belonged. After convincing the South Carolina faithful he could be an impact player in the SEC, the former Gamecock hopes to make believers out of NBA coaches and executives following a successful stint in the NBA Summer League.
“I wanted to play professional basketball since I was really little,” Carrera said. “At first I only played soccer. My dad played professional basketball in Venezuela, and when I started playing basketball, I realized that I had some good skills, especially with rebounding. That’s what got me here to the United States and South Carolina. Getting to the NBA is a dream. If it comes true, then it comes true. If not, I will be happy to provide for my family and the people I love somewhere else.
“That’s my motivation. After everything they have done for me, it has motivated me every day to become better and better. I’ll take my family anywhere with me. I cannot wait to get them with me.”
Wherever he lands, Carrera’s goal is to move his parents, Katherine Gamboa and Luis Carrera, out of Venezuela so he can take care of them, just as they cared for him growing up. While he is always thinking of his loved ones back home, Carrera feels that he has a second family at South Carolina, under head coach Frank Martin, who cared for him as more than just a basketball player.
“Frank is always going to want what is best for you,” Carrera said. “I try to text him sometimes and tell him that I miss him. This is my second home. I like to talk to my coaches here. They’re like my little family.
“Frank means everything to me. He gave me an opportunity to be part of his team. He believed in me. That’s one of the things I appreciate about him. We went through so much, but we finally got to the point where we were a really good team. I’m happy that he gave me the opportunity to be a part of his life. He opened the door for me to himself and his family. He means a lot to me, and he always will.”
Everything is about hard work. I think I have that work ethic that NBA players need. Sometimes you have to be really lucky too.
Carrera averaged career highs in every major statistical category in his final season at South Carolina, leading the Gamecocks with 14.5 points per game as well as a team-leading 16.1 points per game in SEC play, which ranked eighth in the league. He became just one of six Gamecocks all-time with 1,000 career points and at least 800 career boards. Carrera is quick to point out that his time at South Carolina helped prepare him for professional basketball.
“It definitely helped me a lot,” Carrera said. “It matured me. I learned mental toughness. Like if I only played five minutes in a game, I was thinking how I never played just five minutes. I always played 30 or 40 minutes. I used to do everything. That’s something that Frank and everyone else here taught me. Just having that mental toughness and how to prepare your body.”
After graduating in May, Carrera signed as a free agent to play for the Miami Heat in the NBA Summer League. Summer League games began in Orlando where he played in five games and averaged 3.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. The next session took him to Las Vegas where his playing time increased. He played in six games there, with a pair of starts, and averaged 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
“I always felt like I belonged there,” Carrera said. “Everything is about hard work. I think I have that work ethic that NBA players need. Sometimes you have to be really lucky too. I am the kind of guy that will do anything for the team and do anything to be on the team.”
Carrera had his best game on July 12 after hitting all five of his field goal attempts to lead the Heat with 16 points in a win over Phoenix. Carrera admits that in the first few games in Orlando, he had to adjust to the speed of the game, but he was able to adapt quickly.
“I had to approach it as a learning experience” Carrera said. “When I got to Las Vegas, I was getting more playing time because a couple of the (Miami) players weren’t there. I think I showed that I can play.”
In addition to playing against many current NBA players, Carrera found himself battling against other free agents who were trying to make a name for themselves, in addition to former opponents who were selected in the 2016 NBA draft.
“I was a little bit nervous at first, but after the games got started I was OK with it,” Carrera said. “I saw a lot of guys I played against in college. I played against (Jamal) Murray and (Tyler) Ulis from Kentucky. I played against (No. 1 draft pick) Ben Simmons. I had to guard him when I was here, and he was at LSU. Then I had to guard him again in the NBA camp. I think I did pretty well.”
There were other perks to being with an NBA team and playing in the summer league.
“I saw Larry Bird in the hotel lobby,” Carrera beamed. “I saw a lot of legends. I saw Patrick Ewing. I saw Alonzo Mourning, of course, because he was with the Heat.”
While he was fighting for the chance to earn a roster spot, there were some NBA players who were glad to help him along, including Miami’s Rodney McGruder, who played for Frank Martin at Kansas State.
“He just got his contract with the Heat,” Carrera said. “He could have easily not helped me out, but he helped me throughout every game. I would sub in for him, and he talked to me a lot. It was awesome.”
Now Carrera plays the waiting game to see if the Heat or any other team will invite him to a preseason camp. If that doesn’t happen, Carrera is already looking at opportunities in several professional leagues overseas.
“I’m looking all through Europe, and there are teams in a few countries that I think want me to play there,” Carrera said. “There is one Israel, one in Germany and one in Spain. If I go to Europe, I’m not going to give up on the NBA. I’ll always try to get back. We’ll see how it goes.”
South Carolina fans would love to see Carrera get his chance, and it wouldn’t be hard for anyone to vouche for his heart, passion and love for his team.
“I don’t know where that passion comes from,” Carrera said. “It’s just a love of a game. It’s a love to win and be better every single day. That’s why my last year here was so unbelievable. I know these guys who are here now are going to be really good. It makes me proud to have been with Frank and to build a program where we can look back and say, wow we’re pretty good.”
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