Wendell Carter knows exactly what he is doing, even if he doesn’t know where he will end up.
The consensus five-star power forward from Atlanta has been under the microscope for about a year now — really since he emerged as one of the best big men in the Class of 2017.
He’s careful with the media and has no problem saying when he’s not comfortable answering a question or that he doesn’t want his words to be twisted. In that sense, the big man for Team CP3 is not the most interesting recruit on the AAU circuit, and that’s probably by design. While he fields questions about Duke and Kentucky, meant to get him to either express preference for one or discuss how the schools talk about each other, it’s easy to forget that he has an offer from Harvard and is planning a visit there in the fall.
So it’s no surprise that the A student presents himself as one of the smartest players in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League on the court as well.
"One thing that makes Wendell Carter so good is his basketball IQ," said Team CP3 coach Jon Adams. "You don’t usually see a big fella that thinks about the game outside the block. He’s a really good team player, so him understanding basketball is a huge asset."
It doesn’t take long to see what Adams means; Carter is rapidly learning how to translate his size and skill into production for his team.
When he pulls down a defensive rebound, he can quickly unleash a bullet of an outlet pass to a teammate ready to start the break. When he comes up with an emphatic block, it doesn’t go flying out of bounds while he stares down the shooter — it goes to a teammate, again ready to run.
Carter isn’t the quickest guy on the court, but when he keeps his man in front of him, there’s not much an opposing player can do other than force up a bad shot, at which point Carter will be ready to box out. He didn’t put up mind-boggling numbers at Peach Jam, Nike’s premiere event this week, but it was the little things like that which made it clear why he has become a top target for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Krzyzewski, flanked by assistants Jeff Capel and Jon Scheyer, was front and center for Team CP3’s games on Friday, while Capel seemed to follow the team all week. Carter says the Blue Devils have big plans for his future.
"They said they’re going to let the offense go through me," he said. "I’m not going to touch the ball every play, but I’m going to be involved in most plays."
Another way they’re courting the star student Carter is by promising an all-around college experience at an elite university.
"Everybody wants to go to the NBA," Carter said, "but you have to have something to fall back on and nobody can take away my education."
As for the other schools, their promises are a little different. Kentucky appears to be challenging Carter, saying he is going to have to fight in practice to even earn minutes. Georgia, the school Carter says is coming after him the hardest, offers him the opportunity to stay close to home and help coach Mark Fox turn the program into an on-court contender.
But while the school that ultimately lands Carter is going to get a sure-fire pro in the making, he is far from perfect. He showed that on Saturday when California Supreme’s DeAndre Ayton out-battled him in a quarterfinal matchup between two of the best big men in the class.
Carter still managed a double-double, but seemed to play most of the game rattled. He gave up a few inches, and more than a few points, to Ayton, and would occasionally find himself complaining about calls or venting frustration before plays were even over. He has a soft shooting touch that keeps defenses honest, but struggled from the foul line, going 2-for-5.
Ayton finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, leading Cali Supreme to a 17-point win in the Peach Jam quarterfinals.
For now, he has an advantage over Carter. But as legendary talent evaluator Tom Konchalski told SB Nation after the game, Carter is still growing, and as a result, has a larger window for improvement. Konchalski believes that once Carter gets to college and starts to learn how to train and prepare himself for the next level, his stock will rise even more.
Now that his EYBL career is over, Carter has one season left at Pace Academy and hopes to trim his list soon, though he doesn’t know when. The media were abuzz on Twitter on Thursday when Carter slipped up and said he hadn’t heard from Kentucky coach John Calipari in months, then remembered a few minutes later that Calipari came to see him in Spain when Carter was playing with USA Basketball in the FIBA U17 Championships.
Regardless, Duke is seen as the favorite to land his services, and it’s easy to see him fitting in there. He’s drawn comparisons to former Blue Devil Jahlil Okafor because of his size and style of play. Assuming Harry Giles enters the NBA Draft following the 2016-17 season, Carter would be a natural fit to slide into Duke’s starting lineup.
Even better for Duke, or wherever he goes: He has openly discussed a package deal with five-star guard Gary Trent, and even told A Sea of Blue that "it’s a definite" that the two would attend college together. Carter said at Peach Jam that he hopes to take visits with Trent in the fall.
Mentally, Carter is already prepared for the next level. It’s scary to imagine what another year of work can do for him physically.