LAUREL — Good luck reducing Aquille Carr's story to a tweet or a television sound bite.
Has the Baltimore prep basketball sensation grown into a man? Well, the calendar says so, as do his daughter, about to celebrate her first birthday, and his talk of the sport as a job. He hinted strongly in a recent interview that he's ready to bypass college in favor of seeking an overseas professional offer for next year.
“Seton Hall is still my choice right now,” he said of the school to which he committed orally last year. “But I'm thinking about a lot more stuff that I could advance to. I think I'm ready to make it like my job. If you know about basketball, you know what that means. By the end of the season, everybody will find out.”
At 19, he is also still a kid. On a recent afternoon, Carr's coach at Princeton Day Academy, Van Whitfield, called his cellphone a half-dozen times to make sure he was on his way to an interview. When he arrived, 30 minutes later than promised, Whitfield made him apologize, which Carr did with a dog-ate-my-homework grin. And for all his talk of the court as a workplace, he still plays with a dreamy half-smile, as if he's forever imagining the next outlandish move he might attempt.
Is he a star? Sure, if you ask the young fans who crowd the sidelines at Carr's games, hoping to touch him as he takes the court or to click their camera phones the instant he does something amazing. It doesn't end with them. There are also the guys with video cameras, looking to capture the next clip of the 5-foot-7 Carr dunking or embarrassing his defender with a no-he-didn't dribble move. Some of those videos have drawn 300,000 views on YouTube. When Carr traveled to Europe for an amateur tournament two years ago, fans already knew him. In his social media world, fame has no borders.
But he is on the wrong path, according to many scouts. ESPN ranked him among the top 60 players in his class as a junior. Now he's not in the top 100. The big postseason all-star games are sending out their invitations, but Whitfield says Carr hasn't received any. There's little buzz in recruiting circles about whether he'll fulfill his oral commitment to Seton Hall.
ESPN analyst Dave Telep says Carr's ranking has slipped because of the instability in his life and because he will have to alter his showy game to fit in with a college team. He regards talk of Carr's pro potential as absurd.
“I don't even want to address that,” Telep says. “Aquille Carr is a big enough talent that he can hope to be a good college player. But you can't skip steps, and it's not a good use of anyone's time to talk about anything beyond that.”
Is he troubled? Carr has certainly had a turbulent year, bouncing between four schools in three states as he looked for a place that could get him on track academically. Last year, he faced charges of assaulting his daughter's mother and had to attend 22 sessions at the House of Ruth to clear his record. He says, and Whitfield agrees, that he has matured and learned that as a public figure, he can't afford such mistakes. But Carr knows there are many people who still think poorly of him.
“I think about it all the time, what could've happened if this situation hadn't come up,” he says. “I always think about it, but I never let it bother me that much. I just keep moving. The past is the past — no charges, dismissed, clean record. It was just a mistake that will never happen again.”
Yet there is a sweetness to him, the way he glows when he talks about his daughter, Averi, whom he says he visits frequently. The way he runs over to slap a teammate on the back when they've connected for a great play. He's gracious with young fans. His smile, slightly gap-toothed and extending to his big eyes, still comes out readily.
So put all that together and what do you have? Is this the story of a prodigy whose problems have overtaken his dreams or a redemption tale with magnificent chapters ahead?
These are strange questions to ask about a guy who's not old enough to drink legally. Whitfield says he wouldn't wish such scrutiny on his own child.
“He grew up in front of a camera, if you really consider it,” the Princeton Day coach says. “He may be the first kind of uniquely positioned student-athlete who was a celebrity and became a celebrity based on social media. … It's going to be a unique study, five years from now, to see what comes of Aquille Carr. How does he handle having to share that spotlight with other uniquely talented players? How will the media process him? Will they build him up just to bring him down? I'm intrigued by that.”