Caracter, whom coach Rick Pitino described as a “thorn in my side” during his two seasons with the Cardinals, can get back onto the team if he spends a year working, going to school and living within the rules — some things he didn’t embrace in two years on scholarship.
At the end of last season, Pitino encouraged Caracter to move on to the next chapter in his life and basketball career. The only problem was that when Caracter turned the page, he saw it was blank. He declared for the NBA Draft, and was jolted by the NBA’s indifference. Since then, he has been working on a return to the Red and Black. Apparently befriended by a professor at U of L, Caracter has been working to restore his academic eligibility while lobbying Pitino for a return to the team.
Both he and U of L fans must know by now, Pitino has had enough. But yesterday, the coach said he’d consider bringing Caracter back if he spends a year doing the right things. Pitino knows, however, better than anybody, how big an “if” that really is.
The following quotes from Pitino came in a conversation with C-J columnist Rick Bozich and were published in this morning’s paper.
He’s going to have to get a job that I’m going to have to approve, he’s going to have to pay his own way to school, he’s going to have to get his own apartment,” said Pitino, who was in Los Angeles. “We’d be willing to work him out, but he’s not going to practice with our basketball team (next season) or be part of it. He’s going to have to get in shape and get himself on the right track academically.
The biggest fact of the matter right now is that Pitino doesn’t need Caracter. The 9 points and 4 rebonds a game aren’t worth it, because you don’t know when they’re going to come, and they come anyway at the sacrifice of team discipline and focus. In the Cards’ biggest game last season, instead of making what could have been a major contribution against a talented North Carolina team in the Elite Eight, Caracter dogged it when things didn’t go his way in the first half, and spent the entire second half on the bench.
For all of his promise, Caracter has never consistently contributed in any way that even remotely approaches his potential. He’s had big moments, some good games, but it’s tough to sort through all the nonsense to find his benefit to this program.
Now, for the big questions. And Pitino poses them better than anyone.
I told him I wanted him to really think about it and we’d talk about it again when I got back to town later this week. He says he’s willing to do it, but I just don’t understand his motivation when he’s always been a guy who took the easy way out. All he’s ever talked about is going to the pros.
It was Caracter who cut his own lifeline by declaring for the NBA Draft — though he did so with Pitino’s blessing. Understand, however, that Pitino would never have consented to it if he hadn’t been thoroughly convinced that Caracter would never conform to a college lifestyle. In his mind, Caracter’s only option was to turn pro and make some money, and he still sees that as a significant option for Caracter.
It just wasn’t working for either one of us here. He told me that he was ready to do anything I asked him to do, and I told him, ‘This doesn’t make any sense. What chance do you have of doing that when you wouldn’t do what I asked you to do when you were on scholarship?’ I just don’t understand the motivation. All his life he’s taken the easy way out. Why would he want to do this? He could go to Europe and make a couple hundred thousand dollars.
It’s a good question, and if Pitino doesn’t know the answer, then I won’t pretend to.
I will give Caracter this. He does seem determined not to slip through the cracks like so many other great players with his background have. But I also know that he has gotten more second chances in the past two years than most people get in a lifetime. And what he is trying to do now will be very difficult. If he couldn’t do it with all the advantages a U of L basketball player has, it’s tough seeing him pull it off on his own.
One mistake no one should make. This is not all part of some master plan by Pitino. The coach’s only plan in this was to see Caracter off.
“I don’t want to be a doubting Thomas,” Pitino said. “But this is both troubling and encouraging.”
Pitino once gave Scott Padgett at Kentucky a year to get himself together, and it wound up paying big dividends. Maybe that will happen with Caracter. More likely is that for U of L, Caracter is already a sunk cost. Even after he has gone, he is a presence that the program is having to deal with.
Caracter had better understand, however, that when U of L begins preparation for a season with top-five expectations, he and his quest will not be on the agenda. Pitino would be wise to build a firewall between Caracter and his current team.
Even with a lifeline offered, Caracter is on the outside now, and I still wouldn’t bet on him ever getting back in.