Slimmed-Down Derrick Caracter May Be NBA Draft's Most Intriguing Prospect
He already has been there. Done that. Taken his dive and now climbed back into the ring. He washed out once. He won't do it again.
He is seasoned beyond his 22 years.
Caracter was once considered a sure-bet preps-to-pros prospect, a Boy Wonder on the cover of Slam magazine at the age of 13, a product of the big-city hype machine of New York and New Jersey that touted him as the next generation NBA star.
But his fall from grace was so sure and so stunning that his slow rise now has made him one of the more fascinating prospects of this draft class.
He could become a classic, old-school NBA power forward. Or he could become another quick, we-hardly-knew-you statistic.
"I still hear people say I was once 'a top five talent, but with a second-round head,''' Caracter said with a chuckle after a recent workout. "I made my mistakes -- too many to count -- but you live and learn. A lot of guys will come into the league making mistakes I've already made. I've already been through the tough times, the growing pains. I'm ready to be a professional."
Caracter, a 6-9, 280-pound power forward, already has an NBA body and a good basketball IQ, but his past is littered with failures that raise the red flags all around him. Most draft boards have him projected being taken midway through the second round.
He bounced in and out of three different high schools, hardly played his senior year, yet still found a welcome mat at Louisville with Rick Pitino. But that situation soured quickly with suspensions, criticism, little production and a dismissal after two seasons. He transferred to Texas-El Paso, sat out a red-shirt year, then played his only productive college season.
"There was a time that maybe I was cocky, big-headed, too full of myself. But I've been humbled. At Louisville, I was given more responsibility than I was ready to handle," he said. "I'm older now, more mature, and just excited for this opportunity. I'm not going to let anyone down again."
Caracter has been working out the past eight weeks with Dan Barto, the pro development coordinator at IMG Academy. The weight problem that was a big problem at Louisville and still an issue at UTEP doesn't look like much of a problem now.
At IMG, he has gone from 319 pounds to 280. He wants to be at 270 when he enters the NBA. Instead of New York-style Mario's Pizza, it's chicken or fish every night. Instead of football-style weight lifting, he does yoga. He is quicker and leaner now than he ever was in college.
Since returning from the NBA's Chicago pre-draft camp, he has had individual workouts with Milwaukee, Chicago and Minnesota. He had a great workout with Indiana. He is headed for Charlotte and then to Los Angeles to visit with the Lakers.
"He's not going to be one of those 'project bigs,' wherever he goes,'' Barto said. "You can't teach some of the things he has. He already has NBA size and strength, and he wants to learn. That's not to say he won't have his struggles, but he'll thrive on matchups, really show that competitive spirit when he gets to the NBA."
Caracter has great strength, long arms and a knack for rebounding. His mid-range jumper and hands are good. He has nice finesse for someone his size.
He has the talent to become another Glen "Big Baby" Davis, a former second-round pick who has become a key frontcourt player for the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.There is also enough history to think he could become another Maurice Taylor, a overweight power forward who was taken in the first round but never approached his full potential.
When he played at the Chicago-pre draft camp, Caracter chided some of the higher-ranked big men who opted to sit out the workouts because they were worried about hurting their already lofty draft status.
"It doesn't matter where you get picked, because you'll see them all again, whether it's in summer camp, someone's training camp or your rookie season," Caracter said. "Once you get there, they only want to see if you can play. And I can play. I understand people will have questions about me. And I'll answer them."