I love Traci Carter… So should you!
He is a quintessential Philly point guard. Yet, Philly has only had fleeting glances of his game… That is about to change in a MAJOR way.
Why has he rarely appeared on the Philly stage? Well is a long story…
Like hundreds of great, very good and even some not so good South Philadelphia ballers that came before him, Carter studied under the “Guru.” That is where I met him in the summer of 2010. He was on the court with about a dozen or so other kids being “coached” by the legendary Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer, Claude Gross.
At the behest of Claude and 2-time Big 5 MVP, Rashid Bey, I stopped by the Marian Anderson Recreation Center to watch the South Philly contingent in the Sonny Hill Future League practice. Both were convinced they had a “special” player on that squad.
For the uninitiated, let me explain what a Claude Gross practice entailed… Claude would talk and talk and talk and then talk some more. Every so often, he would run a drill or let the players scrimmage and then he would see an error or a miscalculation… The ball would STOP and Claude would talk some more… Now agitated, his vocabulary became forceful and profanity laden to put it mildly.
For those determined to learn… For those desiring to improve… the fussing and cussing was just the price of admission – tuition, if you will – to get to the inevitable lesson. Mo Howard, Andre McCarter, Geoffrey Arnold, Nate Blackwell, Lionel Simmons and Donnie Carr are just a few of the ballers that matriculated through Basketball 101 taught by the Guru.
Traci Carter was one of the last really good players to take the class while Claude was still roaming the sidelines.
Physically, he did not stand out… In fact, while they were patiently listening to Claude’s lecture, I could not tell which one was Traci. He was skinny and very nondescript.
Then Claude let ‘em play a lil’ bit… One time up the court and it was clear which one I was supposed to be watching. His floor game was advanced. Even as a middle schooler, Carter was a dynamic and tough lead guard. He was all business… He took the game very seriously. While very slight, he already possessed the tools to be a factor on both ends of the floor. Actually, he reminded me of Bey at St. Joseph’s. His handle was VERY tight, he made good decisions and he was capable of making open threes and pull-ups alike. Perhaps, most impressive was his lightning quick first step is quick and his ability to change pace with the ball.
That day, Claude and Rashid told Traci “this is Del, he’s gonna make sure you are ok academically… Do what he tells you.”
Traci’s been my youngin from that very moment.
I eagerly awaited his high school debut. Traci enrolled at Prep Charter and I was sure he would set the Pub on fire… Then it happened… Fucking knee injury and subsequent surgery.
He missed his entire freshman year. Given an assignment by Claude, I dared not perform my assigned duties. I kept in touch with Traci. I was impressed with his maturity and the way he was able to handle a serious injury at such a young age. He spirits remained high and he kept his grades together.
He decided to transfer to Roman Catholic for his sophomore year. Running the point on a team that featured Shep Garner, Rashann London and Manny Taylor, Traci helped Cahillites go 13-1 in the Catholic League before bowing out to Steve Vasturia, Mile Overton and St. Joseph’s Prep in the Catholic League semi-finals.
Making 3rd team All-Catholic as a sophomore, the future seemed exceedingly bright for Carter and the Cahillites.
Then he stumbled… This time off the court… A few too many youthful indiscretions resulted in another transfer.
This time, Traci relied on Donnie Carr to help guide his decision-making. I suggested that they consider Life Center Academy in Burlington.
Donnie, Traci and I met with Pastor Dave Boudwin and explained he was a good kid in need of a change of scenery and the support of the church. Pervis Ellison agreed to take on the role of coach/mentor for Traci.
Life Center Academy embraced Traci. He flourished in small class settings, regularly attended all religious gatherings, went on missions overseas and matured a great deal.
Like everyone else that fell under direction of Claude Gross, Traci followed orders. Every time he would receive his report card, he would text a picture and ask me to calculate where he stood. He took no chances.
Truth be told, Traci was a pain in the ass! Donnie Carr wasn’t a walk in the park either.
I found myself on several occasions, driving to Burlington to walk Traci through his core course GPA calculations. There was no way we would allow Traci to fall through the cracks.
On the court, he flourished. Traci earned the 90th spot in the national rankings for the class of 2015 by rivals.com. He was Rated as the 18th best point guard in the class by FOXSports.com. He averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 steals per game in 2014-15 and was tabbed first team all-independent. He was also a McDonald’s All-American Game nominee and was named Life Center’s most valuable player. Traci led Life Center Academy to over 40 victories in his two seasons and the team claimed the top ranking among independent teams within the state of New Jersey. He concluded his prep career with over 1,000 points and was tabbed the top player in the Hoop Hall Classic.
But all of this took place in Burlington, New Jersey. Philly didn’t get to see his rise to scholastic prominence. He was off the radar screen.
College recruiters knew where to find him though… Xavier, Boston College, Pittsburgh, UConn, Creighton and a host of other high major programs were hot on his heels throughout his senior year. Traci eventually chose Marquette.
As a freshman, he did very well. Traci appeared in all 33 games and started 19. A true Philly point guard he averaged 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game while scoring 5.4 points in a very tough Big East Conference.
At the start of his sophomore campaign, he began to express a little but of frustration. Nonetheless, he started 4 of the first 8 games. He was still averaging nearly 4 assists per game.
But there was pensiveness and sense of unease in our conversations that had not been there before. I encouraged him to tough it out… “Make it to the end of the school year,” I said…
Within a few days, it was all over the internet… “Carter leaves Marquette…”
John Giannini was there with open arms… He welcomed Traci… Then he also took Donnie Carr…
God is good! Thank you La Salle University!
With two years of eligibility remaining, Philly will finally get to see what I saw 8 years ago in that sweltering Marion Anderson gym. An authentic Philly point guard running a Philly team.
Local Hoopheads have been blessed… We have an overabundance of tough Philly point guards suiting up this year… Collin Gillespie is playing for Jay Wright, Stevie Jordan and Kimar Williams are at Rider, Shizz Alston sets the table at Temple, Fresh Kimble is Martelli’s coach on the floor…
But you’ve seen all these guys recently…
Physically mature and hungry to establish himself as the premier point guard in the Big 5 and the A10, my youngin is about to bring you sumthin’ a lil’ different…
The show debuts Tuesday evening at 7:30 pm at the Liacouras Center, 1776 North Broad Street.
Don’t be late… The Guru is watching…