The weeks leading up to the draft are key for college players looking to enter the NBA. Most of them have to prove they belong in the league skill-wise. Some others have a lot more convincing to do. When you've made headlines for the wrong reasons, you also have to prove your head and heart are in the right place. UTEP forward Derrick Caracter is one of the biggest examples in this year's draft.
After butting heads with coaches throughout high school and college and having his commitment questioned, Caracter, once the No. 1 high school player in the nation, is out to prove he's a changed man.
So how is he going to do that?
"Just look at the last year of my life", Caracter answers. "I'm 22 years old now. I can't play this game forever. There are some guys that eventually quit and then drift off and wind up who knows where... I chose not to be one of those guys that don't work hard and then regret it for the rest of their lives."
The road to redemption for Caracter began this season at UTEP, the college where he transferred after leaving Rick Pitino's Louisville. He averaged 14.1 ppg and 8.1 rpg there this year, leading the Miners to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to eventual runner-up Butler. At UTEP, he flashed the best of his game - the strength on the boards, the nice footwork, the excellent touch around the basket...
The conditioning, though, wasn't still top notch.
Improving in that department has been one of Caracter's objectives while working out at IMG Academy in Florida lately. He says he's at 285-290 pounds now - the goal being slimming down to 265.
"I have to prove I can be consistent on my work habits," the 6-foot-9 Caracter says. "That's the most important thing I need to do."
For Caracter, who debuts at the pre-draft workout trail Monday in Milwaukee, college was never in the cards. Had he been able to choose, he would have been another preps-to-pros phenom. Things just didn't work out as expected.
"The NBA and college basketball are so different," Caracter says. "I think for some guys going to college is good. For points guards and players like that.
"I never thought I would go to college. I always thought I would be one of the guys going from high school to the NBA. But when the rules changed, I had to go to school."
College and Caracter proved to be a bad match. He arrived at Louisville weighing 315 pounds and missed 16 games due to off-the-court issues in his freshman year. Never one interested in hitting the books, he wasn't delivering on the court either - thus hurting his draft stock. The constant discipline problems led to more suspensions. It was off to El Paso after his sophomore season.
For all the drama with Pitino, Caracter says he wouldn't have any issue playing for him in the NBA if he gets another head coaching gig in the pros.
"I would love to have that opportunity to play for Coach P again, you know. I think Coach P was a great coach. I didn't get off to great start with him because of some character issues. I think highly of Coach P. He just didn't agree on the path that I was going so I had to transfer and play elsewhere at UTEP. If Coach P got another head coach job in the NBA, I would play for him. I would love it."
A future in the NBA is far from certain for Pitino and the same holds true for Caracter. Although his talent has never been in question, the NBA is still not sold on him. Currently projected as a late second-round pick, he will probably have to battle for a roster spot during training camp next October.
If the NBA thing finally doesn't happen for him, Caracter has already thought about other options, though.
"If Plan A doesn't work out, Plan B would be joining the Navy. I would do something like that. Seriously. I think it would be a great experience. You travel, you train, you can be chillin' in Japan. You get to see different things and differents parts of the world. That's something I always wanted to do: travel around the world. See different things, new people, cultures and lifestyles."
So there's apparently going to be a lot of travel in Caracter's future. Just remains to be seen if it's in a comfortable NBA private jet or a U.S. Navy boat.