Saturday, March 27, 1999

Carrawell defies Duke stereotypes

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Those who round up either for convenience or effect have been heard to proclaim the Duke Blue Devils have “10 McDonald's All-Americans” on their top-ranked basketball team. Those aware the Blue Devils have only nine players on scholarship often assume that means nine McDonald's All-Americans.

  • Duke (36-1) vs. Michigan State (33-4), 5:42 p.m.
  • Ohio State (27-8) vs. Connecticut (32-2), 30 minutes after first
        Chris Carrawell knows different.

        Carrawell, for that matter, is different.

        He is the only one of Duke's players not named to the McDonald's team. Even Taymon Domzalski, a senior center who barely plays, made the team reserved for players judged to be among the nation's top 22 prep seniors.

        It doesn't matter so much now. “At first, I figured if it wasn't for me getting injured, I would have been one of those guys, too,” Carrawell said. “People thought I was going to come here, be on the first plane ride back. I use it as a motivating factor. You wouldn't have the same incentive to give 100 percent if everybody was praising you.”

        There are far more important distinctions that separate Carrawell from many of his teammates. The St. Louis neighborhood in which he grew up was not classic Duke suburbia. He is much more a city kid than teammates Shane Battier and Elton Brand.

        Carrawell once recalled a playground game he played a few years back. Six or seven of the other nine players on the court have since been killed.

        When he was at the ACC Tournament earlier this month, Carrawell was approached by a man claiming to be his father. At the time, Carrawell was not interested in delving into his past, and he quickly freed himself from the conversation. But when he called home and provided a description to relatives, they confirmed it probably was true.

        Like many athletes from difficult circumstances, Carrawell's choice was clear: He could allow his background to consume him or define him. He has come to enjoy spicing up his team's personality with a bit of bravado he defines as a city-game style.

        “He's playing his ghetto rap right now, which is fun,” assistant coach Quin Snyder said. “There's a lot more to Chris than anybody realizes. He's a fun guy to have a conversation with. He gets along with people from all different walks, and he's brought that diversity to our team. That's one of the great lessons you learn from sports.”

        Carrawell plays with a degree of grace, intensity and athleticism that evokes such early 90s Blue Devils as Thomas Hill and Brian Davis — guys who weren't pro prospects but who fit perfectly into the definition of “good college player.”

        It's evident Carrawell has not evolved to the point where he has a definite future in the NBA, although he does still have another year at Duke to work toward that goal.

        He is a key defensive stopper and one of the Devils' most important playmakers, even taking over at point guard on those rare instances when Coach Mike Krzyzewski removes William Avery from the game. In the NBA, though, Carrawell would require a much greater gift for creating (and making) his shot.

        But that's not what prevented him from being included on the McDonald's team his senior year at Cardinal Ritter High.

        He was ranked among the top 10 players in his class entering the summer before his senior year, but he dislocated each of his shoulders before the July recruiting period began.

        He should have skipped the Nike All-American Camp and various club tournaments that fill the month for most college basketball prospects.

        Because when he played, he played poorly. And he slipped badly in the eyes of talent scouts. Except one.

        “He had great passion to play,” Krzyzewski said. “Some of that was knocked out of him by his two shoulder operations, but I don't think you can teach passion. There are some people who have it, and some people who don't. He had it, and I felt it was going to come out.”