Jaws have been dropping around Derrick Caracter since he tipped
the scales as a 24-inch newborn at 11 pounds, four ounces. "The
nurses looked at him and said, 'My goodness, he's huge,'" recalls
Winnie Terry, Derrick's mother. The reactions were similar last
month at the Nike All-America high school basketball camp in
Indianapolis, where Derrick, a native of Fanwood, N.J., was
measured at 6'9" and 286 pounds barely two months after his 14th
birthday. "He's a freak," says one Big East coach. "He's a
natural athlete with a phenomenal body. He's the best
eighth-grader I've ever seen--by far."
A freak, a phenom, the next Shaq--Derrick is being called a lot of
things these days. One thing he isn't often called is a kid. His
biggest challenge is to enjoy his adolescence despite the
expectations being piled upon him. "Regardless of how great a
player he is, people need to remember he's only 14," says
Derrick's grandmother Janet Terry.
It's hard not to be titillated by Derrick's size and gracefulness
on the court. Winnie says that Derrick was walking by eight
months and riding a two-wheeler by age two. At eight he won a
state wrestling title in the heavyweight division, and when he
was nine, he pitched for a state all-star team. (Winnie brought
his birth certificate to events to verify his age.) Derrick was
12 when he caught the eye of Seton Hall's basketball staff at a
day camp. He was invited to a Pirates game so he could meet his
idol, Eddie Griffin, then a 6'8" freshman. Upon being told
Derrick's age, Griffin looked at him and said, "Holy s---."
After averaging 28 points and 15 rebounds for Terrill Middle
School last season, Derrick was asked to participate in the Nike
camp, an invitation that is rare for an incoming freshman. To
prepare for the event, Derrick asked his mother if he could work
with a trainer, which he continues to do. (Derrick rarely sees
his father, James, who also lives in New Jersey.) In his first
game at the Nike camp Derrick drained a pair of three-pointers
and two long jumpers, and one recruiting evaluator immediately
rated him the best player at the event.
The following week Derrick got a taste of a phenom's grueling
schedule. After he helped his future high school team, St.
Patrick's of Elizabeth, to the championship of the And1 National
Classic in Philadelphia, Derrick got a call from John Rodriguez,
an assistant coach for his New York City-based AAU team,
Riverside Church. Rodriguez informed Derrick that he needed to
depart at 6:30 the following morning to play for Riverside at
Nike's Peach Jam tournament in Augusta. "I told him a hundred
times that I didn't want to play, but he said, 'Derrick, this is
where you have to show your dedication,'" Derrick said after
Riverside was eliminated in the Peach Jam's quarterfinals. "I
loved playing basketball before all this traveling, but I'm not
liking it as much as I used to. I feel every time I get on the
court, I have to prove myself."
Though many college coaches are predicting that Derrick will
enter the NBA straight from high school, he has other
aspirations. "I don't want to play in the NBA," he says. "I only
want to use basketball so I can go to college and be a
veterinarian. I love animals."
He's also fond of writing, having filled several journals since
the fifth grade. Whether Derrick becomes the next Shaq, Dr.
Doolittle or Steinbeck, there's no wrong choice to be made--as
long as he's the one who makes it. "If basketball gets to the
point where it's not fun anymore, maybe he'll do something else,"
Winnie says. "I always tell him he can be whatever he wants."
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: BOB ROSATO (2) PET MOVE? Caracter, who was a force at the Nike camp, says he wants to be a vet, not an NBA star.
Summer's Brightest Stars
Five others who impressed college recruiters at July's high
school basketball camps.
PLAYER HT., WEIGHT CLASS HIGH SCHOOL
Luol Deng 6'7", 221 Sr. Blair Academy, Blairstown, N.J.
Duke is considered the favorite to land this lithe Sudanese swingman
Ndubi Ebi 6'9", 195 Sr. Westbury Christian, Houston
Forward is a shot-blocking and rebounding whiz; still polishing
his offensive game
Dwight Howard II 6'10", 210 Jr. S.W. Christian Academy,
Recent growth spurt has earned speedy forward comparisons with
Shaun Livingston 6'6", 165 Jr. Central, Peoria, Ill.
Pure point guard showed surprising scoring ability on summer
Charlie Villanueva 6'10", 215 Sr. Blair Academy, Blairstown,
Versatile forward is talented enough to go straight to the NBA
from high school