Bulls' Wendell Carter Jr.: 'As long as we're winning, that's all I really care about'
If the NBA ever turns to a Scholastic Bowl competition to break ties in playoff seeding, the Bulls should be in good shape.
Introduced Monday at the Advocate Center were rookies Wendell Carter Jr., who seriously considered attending Harvard instead of Duke, and Chandler Hutchison, who sounds like he had as good a chance at becoming a college history professor as NBA small forward.
"We talk about it all the time, that we really do value high-character people and players," Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said in his opening statement of the news conference.
Of course, what really matters is how well these guys play, especially Carter, the 6-foot- 10 power forward-center chosen with the No. 7 pick of last Thursday's draft.
With the Bulls trying to shortcut the rebuild, Carter's success could make the difference in the team growing into a Finals contender or hitting a wall in the second round as a playoff contender.
"Growing up, I was a winner," Carter said. "I wanted to win at everything. Even things like Monopoly, I always found a way to win. Sometimes I had to sacrifice things and that carried over to the basketball court -- sacrifice shots and sacrifice minutes. As long as we're winning, that's all I really care about."
Sacrifice and winning have been the basic themes circling Carter since draft night. He played on a talented team at Duke, which included No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III. His stat line of 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds wasn't spectacular, but he did what was necessary and likely would have posted better numbers if Bagley hadn't reclassified to a 2018 high school grad and committed to Duke late last summer.
"I didn't have 30-, 40-point games, but I did all the things that were necessary for us to win and I thought that was very important," Carter said.
Carter's background helps explains how he became a talented, soft-spoken, academic standout. His parents both played college basketball, Wendell Sr. at Delta State and Kylia at Mississippi. There's a cute story about how their first date included a trip to the Atlanta summer league, where Wendell was playing at the time. He won the halftime slam-dunk contest, ran the trophy into the bleachers and handed it to Kylia.
Having been through the college basketball path themselves, the Carters had a plan for Wendell Jr., their only child. Kylia said the rule growing up was he had to get all A's in order to play basketball.
"I'm glad my mom did that," Carter Jr. told theundefeated.com last year. "I used to not like going to school and faked sick all the time. Now, I enjoy going to school."
Both parents worked at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, his dad as an airplane mechanic and mom on the planning team. In a Player's Tribune autobiography, Carter Jr. said his dad would get so physical during their one-on-one games in the driveway, neighbors would call the house to complain.
On Monday, Carter Sr. thought back to the day he finally lost to his son.
"I was like, 'Well, that just lets me know I'm getting older. I've got to unlace my shoes, take them off, put them over in the corner. I'm done,' " he said. "I was proud of him."
The Carters tried to stay in control of their son's burgeoning basketball career, which included sending him to a smaller private school, Pace Academy. Pace doesn't have a history of sending basketball players to the NBA, but it did produce another Chicago pro athlete, hotheaded ex-Cubs catcher Michael Barrett.
"I can count maybe once or twice I wasn't able to make a trip (to an AAU tournament)," Carter Sr. said "Either myself, my wife or both of us were there. But we always kept our head up. We didn't allow certain people around him. Just like going to Pace Academy. We felt like that would be a nurturing school for him. So we spent a lot of time with him -- a lot."
Kylia made headlines in May with a harsh description of the NCAA's student-athlete model while addressing the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
She called it, "the only system I have ever seen where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation. The only two systems where I've known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system, and now I see the NCAA as overseers of a system that is identical to that."
The business model of college basketball certainly has problems, but it's not really the Carters' issue any more. The dream has been realized and now it's up to Wendell Jr. to apply what he's learned in life to the NBA experience.
He talks about being a hard-worker and a winner. According to coach Fred Hoiberg, Carter Jr. put that into practice as soon as his flight too Chicago landed.
"Wendell sent me a text yesterday and said I'm (in town), I'd love to come over and get some shots up," Hoiberg said. "He came over (to the Advocate Center) and we got one of our staff members in here. … I was really impressed.
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