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Prep basketball star Aquille Carr still harbors pro dreams despite his complicated present

As he finishes senior season at Laurel's Princeton Day Academy, he's already looking ahead to Seton Hall or overseas career

February 23, 2013|By Childs Walker | The Baltimore Sun

His good plays are rarely just good. They're spectacular — perfect alley-oop passes to streaking teammates, blink-quick dribbles that leave defenders dead where they stand, knifing drives through thickets of players a foot taller than he.

Even when he's having a poor game, Carr will produce a few plays that send fans surging from their seats, whooping as though they've just found religion.

But he can also be frustrating to watch. When he came to Baltimore in December for a big return appearance against the city's No. 1 team, St. Frances, he couldn't find his shot. Instead of easing off and playing the distributor, he fired errant jumper after errant jumper, many from well behind the 3-point line. He seemed unable to change gears, even as a tight game slipped away from Princeton Day.

Lack of effort isn't the culprit. It's more that Carr expects to be the hero every moment of every game. So he overreaches.

He doesn't apologize for this, saying “can't” is a word he does not accept.

“I don't ever shy away from anything,” he says. “I always want to be that person to take the last shot. If it's going to fall on somebody, let it fall on me.”

Nonetheless, Whitfield says he's seen real progress on this front. Last weekend, Carr went scoreless in the first half of a game, the day after a huge win over archrival Riverdale Baptist. “Don't push it,” Whitfield told him. “You have good teammates. Trust your teammates.”

Carr did just that, and Princeton Day blew open a close game in the second half.

Playground legend?

There are a number of basketball stars known as playground legends. These are men who never made it big on the pro or college stage but whose names have been passed down through verbal lore: Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Joe “The Destroyer” Hammond, Lloyd “Sweet Pea” Daniels.

To this day, you can find devotees who swear Hammond was better than Julius Erving or that Daniels was Magic Johnson with a jump shot.

In many respects, they loom larger than the thousands of players who ground out solid careers. But they carry, also, a whiff of tragedy, of youth squandered and talent untapped.

Could Carr go down as one of the first playground legends of the digital age, a half-man-half-myth whose feats endure in YouTube clips long past the time he's relevant as a player?

It's an awfully cynical question to ask about a 19-year-old high school senior. And yet the elements are there — the blend of eye-popping feats and struggles that could bring him down. His former coach at Patterson, Martin, remains hopeful but says he's wondered whether that's the path ahead for Carr.

“Without a doubt, I think about that,” he says. “If we're five, 10 years down the line and he's not playing professionally in the NBA or overseas, it would be a huge waste of talent. But we've all got lives, and we can't do it for him. I hope he zeros in on his commitment.”

Carr says he never allows himself to think that he might have seen his best days. He has his eyes on a professional path similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings, who played a year in Italy out of high school before returning as a first-round NBA pick.

There was a report two years ago that Jennings' old club, Lottomatica Roma, had offered Carr a $750,000 deal after watching him scorch European amateurs. The club's manager denied the offer to Italian publications, and Martin says he never heard anything concrete about it while Carr was at Patterson.

But he and Whitfield say there's logic in Carr's thoughts about playing overseas, even if he's not nearly as highly rated as Jennings was in 2008. “He's got to keep his options open,” Martin says. “If you look at the last 10 to 20 years, how many 5-foot-6 guys have been drafted to the NBA? So what's his path going to be?”

Carr smiles and nods when asked whether he's intrigued by following in Jennings' footsteps. “His path is similar to mine,” he says. “He grew up in a hard city, sort of like mine. I think that was the right way for him to do what he had to do. Now he can provide for his family more. I think that could be a possible way for me to provide for my family.”

The show goes on

The scene at Princeton Day's home gym in Laurel on a recent afternoon captured the blend of uncertainty, oddity and excitement that is Aquille Carr.

The Storm, at 30 wins and counting, hardly ever play in the space. The floor is worn and dusty. Visitors are greeted by a busted-out window in one of the front doors. Adults jog on exercise machines that overlook the court from behind a mesh fence. It's hardly the stage for the most electrifying player in high school basketball.

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