As a high school senior, Carroll averaged 22.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in earning first-team Class 5A All-Region II honors as selected by the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. He was the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex’s leading scorer for all Class 5A schools. He led the Eagles to 48 wins in his final two seasons, including a 26-4 record and an 11-1 mark in District 11-5A, earning a district championship, as a senior in 2012-13.
Then playing in the Faith 7 all-star game (the best of Texas against the best from Oklahoma), Carroll proved why Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, TCU and Nebraska all offered a scholarship. He was named his team’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 26 points for Team Texas, including going 5-of-11 from 3-point range.
So, imagine Carroll’s surprise when he showed up at Oklahoma State in June 2013 to enroll in summer school and begin playing pickup games with his new teammates. He quickly found out he was no longer the best player on the court – like he was nearly every time he walked out of the locker room in high school.
Not only was he not the best player on the court, but quickly found out he was going to have trouble simply competing with future NBA draft choices Marcus Smart and Markel Brown.
It’s a humbling reality when any high school standout realizes he’s no longer the most athletic player on the court.
“It was a huge check for me because I was the man in high school. Going from being the man to sitting out, it was really hard,” said Carroll, who not only began questioning his ability as an 18-year-old freshman but also whether he had made the correct decision in signing with OSU.
“I started to ask, ‘Man, is this for me?’ Strength-wise, when I got here I was getting thrown around at first. Just the speed of the game was so much different than high school. It was like a whole different ball game. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t ready, but my skills weren’t there, and I felt like I didn’t have the total package yet,” he said.
“I came in around a 6 or a 7 (on a scale of 1 to 10), and they were 8s, 9s and 10s.”
It didn’t take long for Carroll to realize that his best option was going to be to redshirt his first year on campus. Head coach Travis Ford and the OSU coaching staff made the decision early in the season and stuck with it even after the Cowboys entered the heart of Big 12 play with a depleted roster thanks to the dismissal of freshman point guard Stevie Clark, the season-ending injury to Michael Cobbins and the three-game suspension of Smart.
“The decision was made, I believe, the second game of the season. Coach Ford and Coach (Butch) Pierre sat me down and said, ‘You might want to redshirt.’ I thought about it, and I talked to my parents and I talked to my people, and I went ahead and decided to do it,” said Carroll.
“There were more positives than negatives. At first I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t’t want to sit out a year, but after thinking about it, there were a lot of guards in front of me?Markel, Marcus, Brian Williams and Phil Forte?so I just had to wait my turn.”
But it was not easy for someone who rarely left the court during his stellar career at Rowlett High School.
“Last year was a roller coaster, but it was a huge learning experience for me because I got to watch professionals like Markel Brown and Marcus Smart. I was able to learn from them … just playing against them every day in practice really pushed me. If I didn’t bring my A-game they were going to expose me, and I didn’t want that. So I had to come with it every day,” he said.
Carroll says that going up against Smart and Brown every day in practice last season was a great learning experience.
“At first I was nervous, I’m not going to lie. I knew that they were going to be professionals and I was just a freshman. It was tough at first but as the season went on, I got a feel for it,” he said.
“I felt like I could keep up with them in a way. They both pushed me every day. They would tell me all the time, ‘Next year is your time. Now’s your chance to prove that you can play,’” said Carroll of Smart, the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, and Brown, selected in the second round (44th overall) and now a member of the Brooklyn Nets.
There were times in practice last season when Carroll’s performance had Ford wondering if pulling his redshirt would be the best thing for the Cowboys. It wasn’t a surprise when the long-range shooter would start hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer in leading his team to a victory over Smart, Brown and the Cowboys starters.
“Jeffrey, during his redshirt year, there were days in practice he would carry the scout team by himself and beat the starters. By himself,” Ford said. “He has the ability to get very, very hot. He has the ability to get a shot off because of his size and athletic ability, to get off a true jump shot and get off the floor. But he’s got to be consistent and he’s got to develop that toughness and competitive nature that it’s going to take to compete at this level.”
Carroll says, “I don’t remember the exact day, but I remember a drill that we do … and I think I scored every time down. It was pull-up 3, pull-up 3, go to the hole, pull-up 3. I would catch fire sometimes and Coach Ford would be saying to the starters, ‘Really, you’re letting him score like this?’”
Carroll and Ford agree that his shooting abilities are what will impress Cowboys fans the most this season. But it’s the other things that will keep Carroll and sophomore Leyton Hammonds on the court, Ford says.
“Both (Leyton) and Jeffrey Carroll need to develop that killer nature. That competitive spirit where they are going to compete every single play to affect the game at a high level. This is the Big 12,” said the Cowboys head coach. “Those are the things we challenge those two with all the time.
“He’s got to understand on a daily basis how hard you’ve got to play and how hard you have to go mentally and physically every day. If he does that, I think he has the ability to be a breakout-type player. But there are a lot of ifs… he’s got the ability to be a guy that nobody has ever heard of right now, and the next thing you know he could be a breakout guy.”
Carroll knows that to become the type of player that fans in Norman, Austin, Lawrence and Ames will view as a villain, it will be because of his shooting abilities. But it’s the other things that are going to make a difference in his playing time.
“I would say shooting is the strength of my game, but I view my role to be really like a spark plug,” he said. “To come into the game and do whatever I can do to help the team win, whether that’s defense, going in and shooting free throws, hitting a big shot … really just playing my game.”
Ford said that although Carroll is one of the team’s best shooters, it’s going to take doing the little things to earn playing time.
“It’s one thing to (make shots) in practice when there’s no pressure on you. When a guy is redshirting, you try to coach them just like you do everybody else, but you don’t. You let a few things go. You’ve got to defend and you’ve got to rebound and do more than just shoot,” he said.
“That is his greatest strength, there’s no question about that. I told him the other day, don’t lose that ability. I’ve got to count on you as a guy that is going to knock down shots for our team to succeed at the level that we all hope and expect, but he’s going to have to do more than that. I would love to play him more minutes but I don’t want to play a guy only if he’s hot. We’ve all seen those guys, if he’s hot, he can play and you can get away with playing him, but if he’s not, he’s not going to play.
“He’s got to be able to get in there and not hurt us and play enough minutes to get hot. We got to get to that point,” Ford added.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS STORY APPEARS IN THE WINTER 2014 ISSUE OF GOPOKES MAGAZINE