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Associate Head Coach Rick Carter Preaches Toughness 

For many folks, their first week on the job consists of being eased into the workplace’s culture. However, on his second day as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 2003, Rick Carter was unsure if his mental fortitude could handle the flak via Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, one of the greatest college basketball educators of all-time.

During a full-staff meeting, Izzo proceeded to provide each member of the coaching staff with a hefty list of their faults. Just prior to the chastising, heavily-recruited forward Al Horford, who Carter coached in AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), originally committed to in-state rival Michigan over MSU. 

Still, sitting directly next to the coach, Carter assumed his fresh face would eliminate his name from the conversation. Instead, he was brought up first. 

“I went into his office afterwards, wondering if I still had a job,” Carter said. 

Thankfully, Carter’s career in East Lansing, Michigan lasted three seasons before landing a coaching position at Fairfield. More importantly, though, following a disappointing 2015-16 campaign at DePaul in his first season as the associate head coach, he was driven to help construct the Blue Demons’ roster to an Izzo-like standard of excellence. 

“He (Izzo) puts you in tough situations when you’re working or playing for him, but ultimately, you end of being a lot like him,” he said. “You just refuse to lose.”

Entering the spring recruiting period, Carter subsequently desired transfers who displayed a similar level of perseverance. Hence, he pursued guards Chris Harrison-Docks and Austin Grandstaff. 

Carter knew Harrison-Docks since the now-graduate student was 15 years old, recruiting him while at Western Michigan. Plus, he attempted to lure Grandstaff to Missouri and Xavier when he coached on their respective sidelines.  

Even though the youngster decided to commit to Ohio State, along with transferring to Oklahoma midway through last season, Carter wouldn’t let the news affect their already-established friendship. Therefore, Grandstaff knew where to attend once the opportunity arose again. 

“I’ve always stayed close with him and have helped him through good times and bad,” Carter said.

Going back to his days with the Spartans, he recognized the value of relationships from Izzo. According to Carter, Izzo diligently instructs players in practice, leaving the assistants to then generate a bond with them.

Although it’s unclear if Grandstaff will be deemed eligible to suit up in a DePaul uniform this season, the 6-foot-2, 182-pounder showcased his shooting touch in the Blue Demons’ practice and scrimmage a couple weeks ago. Albeit a small sample size, Grandstaff also hit 33 percent of his shots from behind the arc in 2015.

For both Harrison-Docks and Grandstaff, Carter cited their ferocious competitiveness on the hardwood has allowed them to quickly adjust to DePaul’s Pack-Line defense.

“You are who you recruit,” he said. “In turn, these kids are really similar.”

In fact, beyond the two newcomers, other teammates have shown similar a rapport. Prior to an early-morning conditioning session over the summer, Carter recalled each member of the team sitting together in a circle, waiting for it to begin. 

“I had never seen that before at DePaul,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘We’re going to be alright because these kids like each other.’”

Thus, Carter knew the obvious cohesion would propel a sense of accountability between the teammates. For instance, after Grandstaff lazily rolled the ball to the sideline in one of the workouts, point guard Billy Garrett Jr. immediately ran over and communicated the more appropriate way to do so. 

Furthermore, considering the additional talent brought into the backcourt, veterans, such as Darrick Wood, have stood out to Carter due to their refined style of play. Throughout the offseason, he has worked with Wood on forcing less shots and distributing the ball more.

“Last year, a lot of people pressed by putting too much pressure on themselves to score,” Carter said. “You just need to get lost in the game, and he (Wood) is doing that.”

Moreover, Carter evidently embodies the qualities of a head coach. Despite the fact he’ll most likely never inherit that opportunity in the foreseeable future at DePaul, he savors the one game he stepped into head coach Dave Leitao’s shoes. 

Last season, Leitao was ejected in the second half of a matchup versus Georgetown, and Carter went on to fill the void. He remained even keel during the first few minutes but admittedly felt taken aback by the unanticipated duties. 

“You don’t realize how many things you’re hearing behind you, like an assistant coach making a suggestion or needing to make a substitution,” he said. 

Nevertheless, Carter collected praise following the contest from Hoyas’ head coach John Thompson III and, of course, received a phone call from the always attentive Izzo. One day, he hopes to emulate the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member on a full-time basis. 


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