Mizzou Monday: DeMarre Carroll is grinding his way to NBA success

ST. LOUIS — Former Mizzou Tiger DeMarre Carroll left the Utah Jazz for a two-year, $5 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks this past week, the biggest breakthrough the small forward has had in a turbulent NBA career. FOXSportsMidwest.com caught up with the Junkyard Dog, who is coming off a career-best season (6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 16.8 minutes).

First of all, congratulations on the new deal. How does it feel?

“It feels good, man. It feels good to see all the work I put in reaping some benefit.”

How proud is Uncle Mike?  (Carroll’s uncle, former Mizzou and current Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, coached him when he was a Tiger.)

“Besides my dad, he was the first person I called. He was very excited. He just said ‘This is just the beginning.’ He said I’ll do what I gotta do for two years, and get a bigger deal then.”

Have you met Quin Snyder, the Hawks’ new assistant coach? You know he used to coach at Mizzou, right?

“Yeah, but I never met him in my life. It will be interesting. We can talk about Mizzou basketball a little bit. It’s going to be good to have another Mizzou guy around.”

People who watched you at Mizzou saw your rebounding, defense and hustle. There weren’t a ton of people who figured that would transfer over into the NBA. Now you’re going on five years in the league. What does it take to stick?

“Everybody has to find their niche. I found mine. It’s to play hard and do the little things. A lot of people don’t undertand, when you find your niche, you still have to maintain your skill level — taking jump shots, being able to handle the ball. I found my niche was playing hard and trying to be a lockdown defender, and I just kept adding to it by working on my game, my outside shooting and all those type of things.”

You started out in Memphis, then got traded to Houston. The Rockets waived you, and you went back to Memphis.You went to Denver training camp, made the roster, played four games, then got waived. All this before you found success with Utah. Was there a point you wanted to quit?

“I never thought about giving up. I just got to a point where I felt like I was right there. I was going to have my breakthrough. I just needed an opportunity. Utah gave me that opportunity. I’m thankful for it, and I’m blessed that they did.”

“It [Utah] was an opportunity, man. That’s all it was. When I was in Memphis, a lot of people don’t understand that when I first got there I was behind Rudy [Gay], playing the three. Then people got hurt. I had to come in and they moved me to the four. I played my whole rookie year mostly as a four. That’s why people didn’t think I could play the three. My second season, I really didn’t get an opportunity. Third season, I got an opportunity with Utah right at the end. Now, I’m showing people I can play, that I’m a natural three.”

I read an SBNation article that said the Jazz outscored opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions when you were in the game, and got outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when you sat. How do you explain that?

“I just try to do something to change the game. That’s what Uncle Mike told me. He always said, whenever you get in the game, just try to change it. Sometimes, guys in the NBA play so many games they start going through the motions if they don’t have it that night. If somebody comes in with a lot of energy to help them out, it helps the game.”

Everyone loves to talk about the hard foul you put on Kevin Durant (check the 1:35 mark of this video) last year. Is there beef there?

“That’s just two competitors. I actually saw him out here in LA, and we dapped it up. We’re just competitive. When you are on the court, and you’re going against an opponent, the only people on your side are the ones wearing the same jerseys. That’s what my uncle always used to tell me.”

Who is the toughest guy you have had to guard, and why?

“It’s between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. LeBron scores when he has to. Durant always wants to score, so I think he is probably the hardest person to guard these days.”

“One thing about great scorers like that, you can’t shut them down. The biggest thing is, you make it as difficult as possible for them to get their points, get to their average. If you hold them below their average, or make it real difficult when the end of the game comes — so they don’t have their legs — that’s when you can say you shut them down.”

You talk a lot about the grind. What does that mean?

“Every day is a grind. Every day, in the NBA, is an opportunity to get better. Grind every day. People grind every day at work, when they don’t feel like getting up. They get up and grind. That’s what I mean. Be thankful for what you are doing, and keep grinding. I’m good at it.”

It seems like it’s paying off.

“It is. But it’s time for me to take it to another level. I need to let everybody know I’m an NBA player, and a great NBA player.”

EYES ON E.J.

Because we are all eagerly awaiting the start of the college football season, we come up with silly things like “watch lists” to occupy our time. On Monday, some super-early, super-pointless predictions of which players might win major awards were released. There are two things to take away:

1. Tigers are scarce. Thirty-two players from the SEC crowded onto the watch lists for the Maxwell Award (nation’s best player) and the Bednarik Award (nation’s best defensive player). Of those 32, just one plays for Mizzou.

2. E.J. Gaines is the one to watch. The senior corner who landed on the watch list for the Bednarik Award is the sole black-and-gold representative in the field of 32. Gaines is one of four SEC cornerbacks in the early Bednarik discussion. Hes joined by Deion Belue of Alabama, Andre Hal of Vanderbilt and Louchiez Purifoy of Florida.

The third-year starter had the option of testing the NFL waters, and likely would have been selected in the later rounds. But Gaines decided to return for a degree and a chance to end his college career on a high note. His junior campaign — the first year he played in the SEC — was solid. He intercepted a pass, defended 11 and had 74 tackles. But if Gaines wants to bring home the Bednarik, he will need to do more to disrupt opponents’ air attacks. As a sophomore, he earned first-team All-Big 12 honors thanks to two picks and 16 defended passes. Now that his first SEC season is behind him, this year’s numbers should be similar — or better.

SUMMER SCHOOL

The NBA Summer League kicked off Sunday in Orlando. Just one day in, a contest had a heavy Mizzou theme.

Phil Pressey and his Boston Celtics got the best of Kim English and his Detroit Pistions, winning 93-63.

Pressey started and played nearly 25 minutes. He made 5-of-9 shots for 12 points, dished four assists and had one steal and one rebound. He also turned the ball over four times.

English, a second-year player, struggled. Also a starter in the game, he played 19 minutes. In that span he missed eight shots, including five 3-pointers. He finished with one point, three rebounds and three turnovers.

The summer circuit will be in Orlando until July 12, after which it shifts to Las Vegas until July 22.

ALL-STAR TIGERS

The Mizzou baseball team’s official Twitter account did some modest boasting this weekend, pointing out that six schools have had three or more former players make the MLB All-Star Game from 2008 to ’13. Mizzou is on the list, along with elite baseball programs LSU, Arizona State, Miami, Long Beach State and Georgia Tech.

That should be a decent recruiting plug for Mizzou baseball coach Tim Jamieson. He has three former players to thank for it: second baseman Ian Kinsler (an All-Star in 2008, ’10 and ’12), pitcher Aaron Crow (2011) and recently selected 2013 All-Star Max Scherzer, who has a good chance at being named the American League’s starting pitcher for the July 16 game.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Mizzou redshirt junior defensive lineman Lucas Vincent comments on video game companies profiting from the use of player likenesses, a major factor in the Ed O’Bannon suit — an ongoing antitrust lawsuit filed by former and current college athletes against the NCAA due to the organization’s use of players’ likenesses for commercial purposes.


Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.