As the Boston College players lined up for the national anthem before last week’s exhibition game against Bentley, Eli Carter jogged over to stand next to coach Jim Christian and patted him on the back.
No words were exchanged, at least not at that moment. But the implication was clear. Their relationship has to work for the Eagles to survive the coming season and make progress as a program.
Carter has one season of eligibility for BC, arriving on campus having scoring 1,049 points in previous stops at Rutgers and Florida. Because the 24-year-old guard already earned a degree, he was able to transfer and play immediately as a graduate student.
Carter hopes BC will be an avenue to a professional career.
“For me, it was a business decision to come here,” Carter said. “This is someplace I can showcase what I can do. I want a job playing.”
Christian, in his second season with the Eagles, has one of the youngest teams in the country. The Eagles are picked to finish last in the Atlantic Coast Conference after going 13-19 a year ago. This is a season he hopes will be a transition to better times.
In Carter, Christian has a player who can provide leadership and the points needed to compete against a difficult schedule. When BC is playing teams such as North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia, Carter’s experience and toughness should help steady a roster reliant on freshmen.
“We needed somebody who has been through some battles,” Christian said. “Eli can get buckets.”
Compromises have been made. When the Eagles open the season at home against St. Francis (N.Y.) Saturday afternoon, Carter will be the point guard. It’s a position he has played only occasionally in his career, but it’s what Christian needs.
The 6-foot-2-inch Carter will run the offense and work to get his teammates good shots. But more often than not, he’ll be the first option. Carter had 33 points in 32 minutes when the Eagles beat Bentley, 85-75.
Had he been more aggressive, Carter easily could have scored 40. He hit four 3-pointers and showed a quick first step on moves to the basket. Carter has the ability to create a shot when the clock ticks down.
Against much younger defenders, Carter had the look of somebody toying with a younger brother.
“I can score,” Carter said. “I’ve always been able to do that.”
But that can’t be it. Carter has spent a lot of time in Christian’s office in recent weeks, discussing expectations and how best to manage them.
“It’s a new position for him,” said Christian. “There are new demands. He needs to embrace taking all that on while at the same time reaching his individual goals. All eyes will be on him. It’s not a question of talent. It’s a matter of buying into everything we’re doing.
“He has to be patient; I have to be patient. It’s a work in progress and we have to figure it out together.”
A bit rough at Rutgers
For Carter, this season will be the end of an amateur career that took a winding road to Chestnut Hill.
A native of Paterson, N.J., Carter played his first two years of high school basketball at a small private school before transferring to powerhouse St. Anthony High in Jersey City.
He earned a scholarship to St. Bonaventure but decided to go to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire for a year of prep school.
“I wanted to see if I could get myself in a better situation,” Carter said.
He did. Rutgers signed Carter, and he led the team in scoring his first two seasons, averaging 13.7 points. But his sophomore season was a turbulent one.
Coach Mike Rice was suspended for three games in December, charged with abusive behavior by the university after a video was leaked showing him throwing basketballs and cursing at players during practice.
Carter then broke his right fibula in February when he was undercut going to the basket during a game against DePaul. When Rice was fired in April, Carter decided to transfer.
“It was a big mess,” said Carter. “But I personally had two great years there. I’ll never regret it. Rutgers molded me into the player I am now.”
Because of the circumstances at Rutgers, Carter was eligible to play right away and chose Florida.
“Everybody wanted him,” said Rashon Burno, then an assistant with the Gators who’s now at Arizona State. “He could score; he was athletic. He had his head on his shoulders, too.”
Carter played in only seven games his first season with Florida before taking a redshirt to preserve a year of eligibility. His broken leg had not fully healed.
“He needed a lot of determination that season,” Burno said. “The course of action they took at Rutgers after he broke his leg wasn’t best suited for him, and our trainers had to do a lot of work to get him back on the court.”
Carter averaged 8.8 points for Florida last season. He scored 20 or more points in three games, but was not the same impact player he was at Rutgers.
In what was his fourth year of college, Carter finished a degree in liberal arts and sciences. He credits coach Billy Donovan for pushing him in that direction.
“That season was a tough one for me,” Carter said. “But I learned a lot on and off the court.”
Success with transfers
When Donovan left Florida for the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, Carter entered the transfer market again. He picked BC over UNLV, Georgetown, and several other schools.
Carter said a longstanding relationship with assistant coach Scott Spinelli was what ultimately led him to the Eagles. When he was an assistant at Texas A&M, Spinelli recruited Carter out of high school.
BC had success with two fifth-year transfers last season. Guard Dmitri Batten, who had played at Old Dominion, averaged 7.3 points. Swingman Aaron Brown, who had previous stops at Southern Mississippi and Temple, averaged 14.8 points and started every game.
“It’s a new dynamic to college basketball,” Christian said. “I think those guys are over-recruited because they’re so valuable. But you still need to get the right person for your team.
“The players coming in have to understand they need to buy into winning and buy into our program. A fifth-year guy has been around a little bit; it can be difficult.”
In the Bentley game, Carter showed characteristics that suggest he can be an effective leader. He worked with freshman teammates on their spacing, stood and cheered when not in the game, and made sure he got the ball inside to senior center Dennis Clifford.
“He made it easier for the game to come to me,” said Clifford, who averaged 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds last season. “The dude sees the whole floor and he can get different people involved. It’s good for a big guy to have a guard like that. He’ll get me going.”
Carter has tried away from the court, too, inviting teammates to his off-campus apartment to bond.
“I didn’t know any of these guys,” he said. “Your game always speaks for itself and then you build relationships with the other players. It’s getting there.”
Burno, who played at St. Anthony’s, has known Carter since he was a teenager. He thinks Christian made a wise choice.
“Eli is very quiet and kind of to himself sometimes,” said Burno. “But he has a lot of perspective because of what he’s been through. He’ll give BC some guts in the locker room.”
The Eagles have several talented younger players, particularly rangy freshman guard Jerome Robinson. But Carter and Clifford will carry a heavy burden.
Only two other players on the 13-man roster have any college experience. BC’s seven freshmen are the second-most in the ACC behind the eight at Syracuse.
“The younger guys will be looking to Eli and Dennis,” Christian said. “For Eli, it’s a blessing and a curse. Our team is going to react to the way he [reacts], and that hasn’t always been a strength of his. But I think he wants to change his story and he has an opportunity to do it.”
Counting high school, BC will be the sixth school Carter has played for in a span of nine years. He is out of back doors and second chances. This is it.
“Stuff is going to happen, we’ll have ups and downs,” Carter said. “But I have to be able to stick it out. I’ve been through a lot of things in my career and here I am. I need to show people what kind of player and person I am.”