Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Opportunity Knocks: The Anthony Carter Story

The Nuggets Anthony Carter knows about second chances. As a high school drop-out, he didn’t have many options. It was either sell drugs and rob people, like his friends were doing, or play ball.

Carter chose the latter, and he became one of the best basketball hustlers on the streets of ATL. But he still feared he would have to turn to harder crime – like his seven uncles, all of them who had been in prison at one time or another. Fortunately, Carter found another way out.

That avenue presented itself on a night when AC had torched an opponent for thirty in midnight rec-league game. That same player asked Carter if he wanted to go back to school. He also handed him the number of a JC coach out in California.

Carter had to be prodded by a mentor, but he eventually made the call, headed west to the OC, and his legit basketball career was off and running.

But last season, after seven years in the Association, it looked like the 32-year-old Carter’s NBA run might be over. Without any interest from the league, he was forced to play for the Scafati Basket of Italy. It was the worst basketball experience of his life: a ratio of six days of practice a week to one game played, eight hour bus rides to away games, and a language barrier which made it difficult to even order at restaurants. FYI: Carter often phoned his teammates to assist him.

He grew so disenchanted, he cut a deal to buy out his contract for $75,000. He and his wife missed home, and Carter was anxious to see if there was one last shot in The Show. It was - what Carter calls - one of the biggest gambles of his life. But it paid off when the Nuggets signed him in April for one year, at $1.1 million.

This season, Carter has seized another opportunity. With Chucky Atkins sidelined, AC has moved in to the starting PG position and put up career numbers across the board.

"He's not one of these guys who puts up huge stats," says Nuggets TV analyst and former NBA player Scott Hastings, "but he always impacts the game. He's the calming force on the team, like Moses calming the seas."

Teammate Carmelo Anthony says you can count on Moses to bring toughness and energy to the floor every night. "He pushes everybody on the team," says Melo. "When he has the ball, all you have to do is keep moving and he'll find you."

Carter has become the Little Engine That Could on a team hungry for the Northwest division crown. Capturing that would mean a top three seed in the tough Western Conference playoffs. From there?

“Our leadership and character still probably isn’t championship caliber, too many emotional breakdowns on and off the court,” says coach George Karl. “But we're improving, and Anthony’s been a part of that. Anyone who says they expected this from him is crazy. Without him, we might be 15-29.”

So what has Carter done differently this time?

“I stopped drinking, and I’ve kept my body right,” Carter says. “When I was in Miami, my wife and I partied a lot. We had a lot of fun. But you gotta grow up sometime.”

He can only hope his teammates aren’t that far behind.

NOTE: The same weekend the Nuggets were in L.A., and I spoke to AC, OJ Mayo was quoted in the L.A. Times as saying he was surprised Melo was out so late the night before a game.

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