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.”
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