In June of 2013, former Illinois State University standout Jackie Carmichael settled in to watch the NBA Draft with his family, unsure as to whether or not he’d actually end the night on a team’s roster. Carmichael was a four-year player at ISU, which means he didn’t so much declare for the draft as much as work his way toward its inevitable end. Despite that, there were many mock drafts that summer placing him among those taken in the second round. He had every reason to be optimistic.
“We all went back and forth that night on different teams that might take me,” Carmichael told Basketball Insiders. He jokingly referred to it as “That dreaded night,” adding that when the telecast finally ended and his name hadn’t been called, it ate him up in a way he’d never fully experienced before.
“I didn’t go to bed that night,” he said. “I lost a lot of sleep. I remember just sitting up and thinking, ‘What more could I have done?’ It’s human nature to wonder what you could have done more to reach your dreams. That first night was rough.”
Carmichael is the kind of guy who smiles all the time, not because an agent or PR guy tells him to look good for the cameras, but because he genuinely comes off as a happy person. Coming off a season in Irsael with Maccabi Ashdod of the Israeli Basketball Premier League, Carmichael found himself a member of the Milwaukee Bucks’ Summer League team in Las Vegas, NV this July. He’s 27 now, but he continues to use the unique Summer League platform to put on an exhibition for international scouts and, he hopes, NBA teams.
After going undrafted, Carmichael actually got his first paid basketball gig as a result of strong play in Vegas as a member of the Dallas Mavericks’ Summer League team back in 2013.
“I was able to come to Summer League that first year, and I played really well—well enough where it looked like I was going to go to camp with the Mavs,” Carmichael recalled. “That fell through, though, so I went to Spain, who wanted me and thought I’d be a good fit. The ACB obviously is a league where you can play well for one of the best teams in the world outside of the NBA, so that was a no-brainer for me to go there and play. That all came about from me playing well here in Las Vegas. Everything else just sort of fell into place for me after that.”
Carmichael played for Bilbao Basket in Spain, but didn’t last long there, instead opting to spend the rest of the season with the D-League’s Iowa Energy as perhaps another avenue to the NBA. That, it turned out, was much more challenging that he anticipated.
“The thing you have to understand about the D-League is that it’s a mental grind,” he said. “When you come from a Division 1 college, where you eat well and fly private, and then you go to the D-League where you’re flying commercial, everything’s a lot harder. I know these are first-world problems, but right out of college you’re just not used to it. That really humbles you, and you’re working, but it shows that you have to know what’s coming in the D-League and you have to go for the right reasons. If you do, it’s going to work out.”
It worked well enough to get Carmichael another Summer League invite the following summer, which earned him a spot on Maccabi Rishon LeZion in Israel for the 2014-2015 season. He followed that up by playing for Banvit or Turkey before ending up with Maccabi Ashdod last season.
It hasn’t been the NBA so far, but Carmichael has been pleased with his professional pursuits four years after leaving Central Illinois.
“Europe is amazing,” he gushed. “I love being able to see other countries, and playing overseas you get to fly to a different country every week. Who doesn’t want to do that? I always tell the younger guys that if you’ve got a dream, there’s a bunch of different ways to get there. You can go to Europe or all sorts of different places and still end up in the NBA. There’s no one way to do it anymore. I preach that to younger guys, but I also remind myself of that all the time.
“I’d love to play in the NBA, no question,” he continued. “If a team asked me to come play here tomorrow I would, no questions asked. But if I play my entire career in Europe, I’ll be happy with that. I’ve been fortunate enough to play basketball for a living. Not a lot of people get to do that, so I know I’m blessed.”
He means it. The money is better in Europe than it is in the recently rechristened G-League, and the travel is nice, too. Best of all, Carmichael has done well enough for himself that the anxiety of being an undrafted rookie is as ancient history to him as the fried cheese balls he used to love so much at Pub II just off-campus at Illinois State University.
Generally speaking, Las Vegas Summer League in tenacious. Every kid there is playing for his professional life, and well over half of the young men on those rosters are nowhere near a guaranteed roster spot in the NBA. With so many dreams destined for crushing, it’s reasonable that the overwhelming majority of players there take themselves entirely too seriously.
Carmichael, though, walks with an ease in his step uncommon among his teammates. He smiles genuinely in a way that shouldn’t be possible for someone who thought they’d get drafted but didn’t. His perspective is just different four years out of school, which is good. Nobody wants to lose sleep over profound, life-defining disappointment any longer than they have to.
“After the (2013) draft, there wasn’t’ really a lot of down time for me, so I didn’t have much of a chance to think about not getting drafted,” he said. “If you go back to that night, I bet you couldn’t tell me the top ten guys picked in that draft anyway, so the draft thing really doesn’t matter. I’ve moved on and I’m trying to be the best basketball player I can be.”
It takes some players a while to alter their perspective on their dreams, but Carmichael has gotten there without completely giving up on his ultimate goal.
“I’m at peace with everything because I know what I’m going to bring to the game when I touch the floor for an NBA team,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when that happens.”
NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed
James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.
Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.
2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.
“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”
Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.
“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”
While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.
“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.
Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.
“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”
Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.
“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.
Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.
“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.
On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.
Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.
“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.
Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.
Mitchell Taking Things Day-By-Day, But Loving ‘Whirlwind’ Experience
It’s been a special year for the Utah Jazz rookie sensation.
Four-and-a-half months into the first season of his NBA career, Donovan Mitchell has accomplished some incredible things.
He won back-to-back Rookie of the Month honors between this past December and January. He leads his class with 19.6 points per game and nearly 17 field goal attempts per contest. Due much in part to his contributions, the Utah Jazz are the hottest team in the league, riding an 11-game winning streak after falling far below the .500 mark.
To top all that off, he won the slam-dunk competition just a few days ago in an event for the whole world to see. All of this has been nothing short of amazing for the 21-year-old, and even he didn’t see this coming.
“This whole thing’s just been a whirlwind for me,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend of his first-year experience. “Just enjoying the process. There are games where I’m just like, ‘Wow this happened’ or ‘Wow that happened’ and it’s a credit to my teammates and the coaching staff and the organization for believing in me.
“Without them, none of this would be possible, so I really thank them for giving me this opportunity.”
Believe it or not, Mitchell wasn’t always so sure about where his life would go. He played for a couple of seasons at Louisville and ended up declaring for the 2017 NBA draft, a night where the Jazz stole him away from every other team by executing a deal with the Denver Nuggets to land the 13th overall pick in Salt Lake City.
“I tell people all the time this wasn’t my plan,” Mitchell said at All-Star weekend. “After two years of college, being here for All-Star and even being in the NBA wasn’t entirely my plan, so I’m just taking it one step at a time, one day at a time, praising God for this opportunity he’s given me.”
So far, Mitchell is picking things up on the go. As he keeps improving and solidifying his game on the court, he’s also bettering himself mentally.
“If I just continue to be humble and continue to learn, that’s the biggest thing is learning and understanding the game,” Mitchell said. “I make the joke that it’s easy to study film and watch all the games when you don’t have five classes to study for throughout the day. So it’s been fun and I’m just taking it day by day.”
It’s pretty awesome that he’s doing what he’s doing with friends by his side. Most of us think of this class of rookies as a special group because of their talents as players, but it’s a tight-knit inner circle of friends who are enjoying every second of life in the NBA together.
Kyle Kuzma, John Collins, De’Aaron Fox, and Dennis Smith Jr. are friends Mitchell mentioned that he’s been close with for a while, and to see all of their hard work culminate so quickly at the Rising Stars game in Los Angeles is something special.
“I’ve known a lot of these guys, pretty much everybody on this team since high school for the most part,” Mitchell said. “Kinda hanging the same way we did in high school just a lot more cameras, a lot more downtime, bigger city.
“It’s fun. Just gotta treat it like it’s fun, go out there and just be kids. Live a dream of ours since we were younger.”
After the weekend he had, Mitchell accomplished that goal.
Whether the next chapter in his career has a Rookie of the Year award written into it or not, we’re seeing spectacular things from the one they call “Spida.”
And it’s about time people are taking notice.
NBA Daily: Tobias Harris Thrives at Every Stop
Tobias Harris was traded yet again, but thankfully for the Clippers, he’s gotten better every stop he’s made.
When Tobias Harris was a 19-year-old rookie for the Milwaukee Bucks, he faced a lot of the same issues that other 19-year-old rookies before him had faced, most notably the ones dealing with a lack of playing time.
He only saw the floor in 42 games, playing on 11 minutes per contest when he did get out there.
Despite that, it was somewhat of a surprise that the Bucks gave up on his talent so early in his career, trading him to the Orlando Magic just 28 games into his sophomore season as part of a trade for J.J. Redick.
The Magic immediately tripled his minutes, and he’s never been a 30 minutes-per-game guy ever since. He also has never said a negative thing about any team he’s ever played for. As far as he’s concerned, every opportunity is a blessing and a learning experience.
“I didn’t look at Milwaukee as a team giving up on me. I looked at it as Orlando valuing me and seeing me as a piece of the puzzle,” Harris told Basketball Insiders during All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the three-point contest.
“The NBA is about opportunity, so when you get the opportunity you have to make the most of it. Going from a rookie not playing to where I’m at now, it takes a lot of hard work, focus and determination,” he said. “You have to have the confidence in your own self, to understand you can break through in this league.”
And break through he did, in large part because those first 18 months as a professional were so challenging.
“Adversity helped me to work hard,” he said. “I always envisioned myself as a primetime player in this league. I have a ways to go to get there, but that’s the best part about me. My best basketball is ahead of me, and adversity has helped me get there. It’s motivated me, and I want to be the best player I can be. I’m trying every single day to fight for that.”
This season, most of which came as a member of the Detroit Pistons, was a career-best for Harris.
Between the Pistons and L.A. Clippers, Harris has averaged a career-high 18 points per game, and while he wasn’t voted to the All-Star Team this year, his name popped up in the conversation. He’s never been closer.
It was bittersweet for him, though, leaving a Detroit team he liked so much.
“My favorite part was being around those guys [in Detroit],” he said. “It was a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. Coach Van Gundy is a great coach. At the same time, when I first got there, we had a chance to make the playoffs and we got in the playoffs. That was nice for me, to put that pressure on myself and get it done.”
Now, he’s ready to accept his next challenge in Los Angeles with the Clippers.
“I look at every new opportunity as a new chance,” he said. “My first trade from Milwaukee to Orlando was a situation where I just wanted to prove myself to the league. When I was traded from Orlando to Detroit, it was a situation where I wanted to help the team get to the playoffs, and that’s similar to this one here, too… I really like the group of guys that are on this team. I like our demeanor and our approach, so after the break I look forward to building that chemistry and moving forward.”
Of course, moving forward is all he’s ever done.
After everything he’s proven to date, it seems like a given that he’ll continue to make strides with his new team.