BALTIMORE — How can this kid ever hope to make it?
You have to start with the obvious: Aquille Carr is 5 feet 7, maybe a buck-forty-five soaking wet. It’s what you notice first about the junior point guard from Baltimore’s Patterson High, even before the impossible vertical leap and the sick crossovers and the radiant smile and the incessant trash talk. He isn’t small. He isn’t smallish. He’s tiny.
He may have inherited his old man’s hops — Alan Carr, Aquille’s father, was a Baltimore hoops legend himself back in the day, a 6-2 shooting guard who could jump right out of the building — but he got his mama’s height. Tammy Carr, bless her heart, is 4-11 on a good day.
Aquille, 18, has super-size dreams — the NBA, worldwide stardom, endorsements. And in that vulnerable space between boyhood and manhood, his life, both on and off the court, is accelerating at a dizzying rate.
He unofficially committed to play for Seton Hall University last week; he doesn’t plan on being there for long. But at each higher level, his height is going to be a bigger problem, when those trees in the paint — that he loves to go around, through or over — are no longer 6-3 or 6-4, but 6-9 and 7-1.
Do you know how many players 5-7 or shorter have had NBA careers that lasted 300 games or more? Three: Spud Webb, Muggsy Bogues and Earl Boykins. Do you know how many made an all-star team even once? None.
“That’s what I always hear — ‘He can’t do this. He can’t do that. He’s too small,’ ” Carr says. “But I’ve been proving people wrong a long time now. And I’m just getting started.”
How can this kid possibly fail?
Have you seen Aquille Carr play? If not, you get your chance Monday night when Carr’s Patterson Clippers, the No. 1 team in the Baltimore Sun’s rankings, take on The Washington Post’s No. 3 team, Gonzaga, at Coolidge High. The game is part of Patterson’s national schedule (funded largely by Under Armour, which has a two-year deal to outfit the team) that has already taken the Clippers to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Jersey this season.
Trust us, you have never seen anything like it — a 5-7 slasher who has put up nearly 30 points per game the past two seasons, who dunks routinely, whose crossover move draws comparisons to Allen Iverson’s, whose vertical leap has been measured at 48 inches, who is rated the 26th-best prospect in his class by Rivals.com, who was on the cover of Dime Magazine in August with a story that called him “without question, the country’s most electrifying high school player.”
“He’s a defensive nightmare,” says one assistant at a Big East school that recruited him who asked not to be named because college coaches are not allowed to discuss potential recruits until after they have officially signed with a school.
“With his type of speed and quickness,” says an ACC assistant, “there’s not a lot of guys, even at the highest level, who can do what he does.”
And he doesn’t just beat you. He humiliates you. He talks about yo mama. (“Best trash-talker in the city,” says Dominic Barnes of rival Digital Harbor High, after Carr lit up the Rams for 32 points earlier this season.) He breaks your ankles on the perimeter with a crossover dribble, then laughs as he sails through the trees inside, and on his way back down the floor he gets in your face, tells you you’re gutless and dares you to try to guard him again.
Here is what poor John Cooper, coach of Urbana High, had to say after Carr destroyed his team with 43 points in last year’s Maryland 4A North region final: “We tried to prepare for what we’d face tonight [from Carr], but I mean, what can you do? . . . I probably talked to about 20 coaches about how to defend him, and they all said he’s just a freak of a player [who] can make you look ridiculous.”
Have you seen him? Some 2.9 million (and counting) of you have watched his Hoopmixtape.com highlight reel on YouTube. Maybe you’re one of those who were moved to add comments: “I watch this every day for inspiration.” “one word: WOW!!” “dude SICK. NO DOUBT.”
Carr’s legend is big enough that NBA players are lining up to get a piece. The Washington Wizards’ John Wall came to see him play last season and asked Carr to work out with his little brother. Carr says he has cellphone numbers for both Wall and Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Naturally, Carr draws comparisons to both Bogues and Shawnta Rogers, another diminutive Baltimore point guard who had a stellar career at George Washington University and overseas as a pro.
“Remember,” says longtime Baltimore hoops fixture Bob Wade, who coached Bogues at Dunbar High, “they said Muggsy could never make it. But he changed the game.” As a freshman at Patterson, Carr went for a triple-double in his debut. He put up 39 points and 19 assists on Josh Selby , now a Memphis Grizzles rookie, when Patterson played Selby’s Lake Clifton High. As a sophomore, he scored 57 against Forest Park (Md.), breaking his school’s 50-year old single-game record. He dunked on 6-5 forward Nick Faust , now a freshman at the University of Maryland , in what the Baltimore Sun dubbed “the dunk heard ’round Baltimore.”
Last April, playing for Team USA in an international under-19 tournament in Italy, Carr put up 45 points and was carried off the court by the Italian fans. Within days he had a contract offer from an Italian professional team reported to be for $750,000.
“Nah,” Aquille laughs when asked if Italy is still a possibility. “I’m not going over there.”
In Baltimore, where there hasn’t been a pro team since the Bullets left for Washington in 1973, and where there are no big-time collegiate programs, high school hoops is a religion — an urban, indoor “Friday Night Lights” — and Carr is its spiritual leader.
On the court, his best moves turn spectators into revival-tent congregants, rising to their feet, waving their arms, dancing in the aisles, testifying — moved by the spirit of something that feels close to holy.
“God,” Tammy Carr says, “gave this child a gift.”
How can this kid ever hope to make it?
This is east Baltimore. And it’s hard out here. You know all the social ills: Crime. Drugs. Broken homes. Bad schools. It’s no wonder Carr calls himself a homebody. There’s nothing good going on outside.
“I don’t really pay it no mind,” he says. “I just do what I have to do in school and practice, [and] chill with my family.”
“The biggest motivation these kids have,” says Harry Martin, Patterson’s head coach, “is to walk out their front doors and take a look around.”
To get to Patterson’s gym, you drive past the industrial yards filled with empty semi-truck containers. You park in the school lot just off Kane Street. Get there early — by halftime of the preceding JV game, or you’ll be parking on the street, and there’s a good chance you won’t get in — since the gym only seats about 300 and they often turn away hundreds more.
You walk through the magnetometer and past the Baltimore City Public Schools Police officer at the entrance (and note the half-dozen or so additional officers lining the gym).
This is a job for the Crimestopper.
Aquille Carr acquired that brilliant nickname because, as legend has it, all the dealers, hustlers and assorted knuckleheads in east Baltimore shut down business for those two hours every time Patterson has a game.
“Ain’t no flashing lights,” Tammy Carr says, “until after the game.”
“Ain’t no way you’re going to try to go kill somebody or rob somebody when Patterson’s playing,” Aquille says. “Naw. They’re coming to see the show first.”
Rodney Coffield, an 18-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, who until this year doubled as the head coach at the city’s Douglass High, provides confirmation that the legend of the Crimestopper is rooted in truth.
“All your gangbangers, your drug dealers, people out robbing in the community, all the so-called big G’s — those guys are going to be in there, just to make sure they see this kid play,” Coffield says. “And believe me, there’s money [being gambled] on it — how many points [Carr] scores, stuff like that.”
Indeed, the handy crime map on the BPD’s Web site shows that in the week preceding Dec. 19 — the night Patterson hosted rival City College High (and the most recent Patterson home game for which data was available) — there were three car break-ins and two aggravated assaults within a half-mile radius (the largest available search radius) of the school.
But on Dec. 19 itself, with the Crimestopper doing his thing, and the tiny gym packed with both the devout and the sinister, there was not a single crime reported in the area.
How can this kid possibly fail?
“You can’t get love like we got right here,” Alan Carr, 49, says. Alan and Tammy have just been wrapped up from behind in a stealth-attack bear hug by Aquille, as the family sits at the dining room table at their daughter Ashlie’s rowhouse, in a working-class eastside neighborhood — the gathering spot for friends and family members after Aquille’s games.
“You can’t pay for this,” Alan says, placing a hand on the arm of Aquille, the youngest of the family’s three children. “I told him when he was 14, I said, ‘Aquille, when you start getting big-headed, all those people you despise — you’re going to become one of them. You need to stay grounded. We’re going to be with you 100 percent, regardless of what decisions you make.’ ”
According to CountyHealthRankings.org, 62 percent of children in Baltimore live in single-parent households, nearly double the statewide rate. Martin counts only four players, Aquille included, among the 12 on Patterson’s roster who live in two-parent households.
“It’s rare,” Aquille says. “Most everyone I hang with, they just got a mom, or they just got a dad. And I know that’s tough for them. I just thank God I got both my parents.”
Alan Carr’s own parents were together for 40 years, and just before his father passed away, he said to Alan, “Whatever you do, take care of your kids.”
At 19, Alan — known as “Alan Star” around Baltimore during his schoolboy days at Patterson — had the makings of a pretty good college career, having put together a solid freshman season at Essex (Md.) Community College, which he chose to work on his grades in hopes of moving on to a bigger program.
But when Tammy got pregnant, Alan, mindful of his father’s dying wishes, dropped out of school to support his family, going to work driving a truck and delivering appliances for Baltimore Gas and Electric.
Alan Carr has instilled in both of his sons — Alan Jr., himself a star athlete in his day, is 12 years older than Aquille — an understanding of what it means to be a man, and to be a father. Alan Jr. is father to a 4-year-old boy, Amare.
And Aquille’s time is coming fast.
Come April, when Patterson’s season is long finished and the days are getting longer and warmer and the teenage mind starts to turn to summer vacation, there’s going to be a blessing visited upon the Carr family.
There’s going to be a baby, a little Crimestopper. Aquille is going to be a father. And you don’t even need to ask what that means for Aquille.
“The Carrs take care of their kids,” Alan says. “This isn’t going to affect things at all. Me and Tammy are going to be involved. Aquille’s going to have a lot of help.”
But of course, a baby does affect things. It affects everything. And it makes you wonder.
How can this kid ever hope to make it?
How can this kid possibly fail?