Traci Carter: The Last of Claude’s Guys

This college basketball season marks the end of an era.

It will not be noted in national, regional or local newspapers. Sports Illustrated will not do a cover story… ESPN is not sending a film crew…

None of that matters…

The absence of mainstream media acknowledgment doesn’t make it’s passing any less significant. After this season, there won’t be another college basketball player that was coached directly by the late, great Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer Claude Gross, Sr.

There won’t be anymore of Claude’s guys coming down the pike.

The self-proclaimed GURU, began nurturing and developing South Philly’s basketball talent in the mid 1950’s. He heavily influenced the career of his dear friend Ray “Chink” Scott, who played 11 highly productive years in the NBA and ABA with the Pistons, Baltimore Bullets and Virginia Squires. Scot went on to become NBA Coach of The Year.

Over a coaching career spanning more than half of a century, Gross developed, coached and helped raise hundreds of young boys. He possessed a truly unique gift. Gross was able to use the game of basketball as a means of furthering the socialization process for hundreds of young Black men.

As a young man, he made you extremely uncomfortable… Gross forcefully maintained the adult/child distinction in his relationships with those playing in his program. Some would describe him as intimidating. Standing over 6’5″, he was a man and you were a boy. There was absolutely no confusion in this regard. Claude Gross was not a friend to his players, he was not a peer. He was an domineering authority figure within the highly regarded Sonny Hill League and the larger Philadelphia Basketball community.

Claude would poke you, prod you, smack you, cuss you, embarrass you, kiss you, hug you and most importantly, love you.

Once you became a man, it all made perfect sense. Mo Howard, Lionel Simmons, Roland Houston, Nate Blackwell, Geoffrey Arnold, Bobby Johnson, Donnie Carr, Rashid Bey, the entire Myers family, John Davis, Junior Fortunat these are just a few of the division 1 players that honed their games and refined their understanding of the larger world while playing for under Gross in the South Philly Sonny Hill Program.

Dion Waiters, BJ Johnson and Langston Galloway are the last of the NBA guys that played for Gross. All of them should have several more years left in their respective NBA careers.

But… at the college level, it’s a wrap. This is it. No more coming…

It’s significant in a lot of ways.

University of Hartford, graduate student and point guard Traci Carter is the last of the long and glorious line of college basketball players that were directly coached by Claude Gross.

It seems fitting that Traci is last.

(l-r) Tyrone Pitts, Rashid Bey, Fran Dunphy, Claude Gross and Dr. Scott Brooks

I met Traci, through Claude, when he was in the 7th grade. I had been talking to Claude and Philadelphia Black Basketball Hall of Famer Rashid Bey about their Sonny Hill teams. They both spoke glowingly about two South Philly kids in particular. Terquin “Buddha” Mott and Traci Carter, these guys were next up.

I head to one of Claude’s “practices” held for decades at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center located at 740 S 17th St. Truth be told, I really didn’t get to see the kid’s play. As usual, Claude’s practice consisted of Claude holding court and regaling everyone. After he explained in great detail how he led his Ben Franklin team into Overbrook HS and defeated Wilt and his teammates for the 937th time there wasn’t much scrimmaging that day…

At the conclusion of his performance, Rashid and Claude introduced me to young Traci Carter after the practice. “Traci… this is Del. He’s gonna help you stay on top your academic situation. Whatever he tells you to do… do it.” This was a very formal process. Rashid, Traci, Claude and I understood very clearly that I would be held accountable for keeping him on track academically.

The basketball was a foregone conclusion… If Claude and Rashid said he was D1 prospect, then he was a D1 prospect… period.

From that day forward, that was my responsibility. I was Traci’s academic “guy.” In this way, Traci was the beneficiary of Claude’s immense social capital. People with with belief systems rooted in religious faith, may refer to Traci’s situation as a “blessing.”

They are not mutually exclusive. One can be the beneficiary of social capital and be blessed at the same time.

Social capital is the effective functioning of social groups through interpersonal relationships. Because, Claude saw the need and had access to resources, Traci would have a personal, well-informed and accessible academic advisor throughout his career as a student-athlete. Traci directly benefited from the fact that Claude and I shared a sense of identity as Black men, a shared understanding of the importance of education, shared norms, shared values, trust, cooperation and, reciprocity.

Claude would do things to help me and I would always return the favor when called upon. In this way we were able leveraged our respective social capital. Think of social capital as a measure of the value of resources, both tangible (e.g., access to Marian Anderson Rec Center and McGonigle Hall) and intangible (e.g. people), and the impact that these resources have on individual young men, and on the larger Philadelphia basketball community. Social capital is regularly deployed by conscientious men to make hundreds of young men “middle class by mistake.”

A South Philly prodigy on the court, Carter enrolled at Prep Charter high school. He would suffer a significant knee injury, requiring surgery and not play at all as freshman. Through it all, Carter remained focused on his academic progress. The South Philly ol’ heads Claude, Rashid Bey and Donnie Carr instilled this value in him early. Carter internalized it almost immediately. More than the typical gifted young ballplayer, Carter grasped the importance of maintaining strong grades. Without prompting, he would check in every time he got his report card.

That’s what Claude and Rashid had told him to do 2 years earlier. I always walked him through his core updated GPA and core credits. Traci wanted to have all options available. He would not allow poor grades to limit his choices. As a high school freshman, Carter took control of his academics, even while suffering a significant knee injury.

Traci Carter, Roman Catholic

As he recovered, Carter decided he wanted to play in Philadelphia’s Catholic League. Carter began his playing career at Roman Catholic High School and averaged 7.6 points per game for the Cahillites as a sophomore and competed on the AAU circuit for We-R1 and the squad claimed the Under Armour Association Championship in 2014. He did very well on the court.

Off the court, he exhibited questionable judgement and engaged in some negative behaviors. As a result, he had to abruptly leave Roman Catholic.

Carter clearly violated school rules. Had to go…

He needed a school. He was leaning heavily on Donnie Carr for guidance. Claude “suggested” that we find a solution fast. “Fix this shit!” is the way he phrased his suggestion. In doing so, Claude was once again leveraging his considerable social capital.

An accomplished basketball player, Carter needed a school with a solid basketball coach and program. A precocious juvenile, Carter would benefit immensely from a high structured boarding situation that took him away from the streets of South Philadelphia.

Also, Carter had no money for educational expenses. He lived with his grandmother who was on a fixed income.

So… we needed to find a solid academic boarding school situation with a strong basketball program for free… Ok… got it…

Leveraging the only resource we had, social capital… Donnie Carr and I walked Traci Carter into meet with Pastor Dave Boudwin and Pervis Ellison, the School Head and Basketball Coach at Life Center Academy. All the cards were placed on the table. Traci fully disclosed the nature of his negative behaviors at Roman Catholic. We essentially asked Life Center Academy to take this young man just because it would benefit Traci.

We asked for a blessing.

We prayed on the situation and Traci’s educational and athletic career at Life Center began that day. Traci faithfully attended all church services and programs. He was able to participate in Life Center missionary programs in Central America.

Traci Carter, Life Center Academy

On the court, Traci 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 the program’s most valuable player. Carter led the program to 40 victories in his two seasons and the team claimed the top ranking among independent teams within the state of New Jersey.

Each and every time Traci got his report card he sent me a picture and we had to review and update his standing. He did not take any chances. Actually, he was a pain in the ass about it. He understood how to calculate his GPA and core courses. He could have done this independently. However, he wanted to engage, he needed to discuss his academic standing. It was a ritual… a habit. Claude planted the seed of academic responsibility in Traci when he was 12. By the time he was 17, it was simply an important part of who Traci was as a student-athlete.

Why take chances?

Control the shit you can control…

Traci Carter, Marquette

On the court, Traci started off in the Big East at Marquette. He had a strong rookie season, leading the team in assists. He played in a total of 33 games, making 19 starts while averaging 23.9 minutes per outing. The next year Carter would play in 8 games and start 4 before leaving the program after the Fall semester.

He resurfaced at La Salle where he emerged as the starter on Ashley Howard’s first team. Carter played in all 31 games for the Explorers, while making 30 starts. He led team with 101 assists (3.3 apg) and 57 steals (1.8 spg). Averaged 6.4 points per contest. Shot 83.9 percent from the free-throw line.

Traci Carter, La Salle

Would talk to him occasionally… Always ask the same shit… “What’s up with the books?”

Always got the same response. “I’m straight.”

He was straight. Graduated easily and on time.

Delgreco Wilson & Traci Carter

Decided to go graduate school and continue playing at the University of Hartford. While pursuing a Master’s Carter played a lil’ hoops for Hartford.

He was named America East All-Conference Third Team and named to America East All-Defensive Team. Carter was one of two players to start all 33 games while breaking the program’s single-season record in steals with 83.  He finished sixth in the nation in steals and ninth in steals per game (2.5), leading the America East in both categories. Carter also finished as the America East’s leader in assists (162), assists per game (4.9) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.9).

Traci Carter, Hartford

Guess what? They gave him another year of eligibility. Carter is once again running point for Hartford Head John Gallagher who is coming off most successful two-year run in Hartford’s DI history (2017-19).

I’m sure Traci will perform well on the court. He gets at guys…

Most importantly, Carter’s going to emerge from his journey as a student-athlete with a Master’s degree, zero debt and plenty of relationships. The last of Claude’s guys. Catch him Tuesday night as he squares off with Collin Gillespie and Villanova on Tuesday night.

You’ll be witnessing the the end of an era. Traci Carter, M.A. is the last one.

Well played Mr. Gross.

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