Aquille Carr, the YouTube basketball star and Baltimore legend, is looking for another shot in the NBA D-League.
Let’s count the ways Aquille Carr keeps you clicking on his highlight reels, the videos that have amassed some 15 million views and counting. Fans still spring to Twitter to tell Carr that he reminds them of Allen Iverson, that they’re shocked he wasn’t selected in the NBA draft. So how does he do it?
Is it his quickness? How he darts through double teams and rockets into the paint, uncaring of the giants blocking his path to the bucket? Maybe it’s the shimmer? That pause he takes in between his casual, high dribbles before he bolts to unleash his latest trick -- a dunk over a defender nine inches taller, a fluttering alley-oop lob from midcourt, a dizzying spin move leaving a defender surprised he hasn’t collapsed to dust.
It might be the smile. When it all comes together, when he finishes the dunk, nails the stepback, or pumps his fist after a teammate hammers home a lob, there’s that grin; the one that ignited sold-out Baltimore gyms for three years. Sometimes it’s followed by two pounds to his chest -- thump, thump -- or a point to his biceps, his reminder that despite standing 5-foot-6, he is -- really, truly, unquestionably -- the most electrifying player on the court.
This is “the Show,” what Carr promises to deliver anytime he takes the floor.
There is no show today.
Carr is 20. Since his freshman year at Patterson High in East Baltimore, he has racked up those millions of YouTube hits, won a state title, earned compliments from Kevin Durant and developed a texting and workout relationship with John Wall, possessed a city with his beguiling play, became a father ...
... received a $750,000 contract offer from an Italian team after his sophomore year at Patterson, traveled through China with a roving band of former NBA stars, participated in the Adidas Eurocamp, played zero college games and 10 games in the D-League.
Now, there are no team officials limiting his availability, no team gear, no microphones except the one in a reporter’s recorder, no show. Just a young, ambitious agent named Daniel Hazan emphasizing the importance of re-branding and “preparing for the exit before you enter."
“It’s not high school no more,” Carr says.
First, it was the dunk. Glenn Graham, a veteran sports reporter at the Baltimore Sun, gawked with the rest of the crowd when Carr rose over Nick Faust, Baltimore City College High’s 6-3 star forward who would later earn a scholarship to Maryland. Carr was a freshman. Carr picked the ball from City College’s point guard at midcourt, before angling down the right sideline while Faust charged from the left. He rose, floated and threw down a jam that stopped the game for a couple of minutes. The crowd roared and stomped in disbelief. Five-foot-6? A freshman? That dunk? Graham wrote that he’d remember it for the rest of his life.
It was one of the countless moments that created “The Crimestopper,” the diminutive city star and internet phenomenon, East Baltimore’s Finest: Aquille Carr.
“We talked with city police and their belief was that his following brought people off of the corners to watch his games,” Patterson head coach Harry Martin says. “They’d joke that they’d get a break for two or three hours when Aquille had a game.”
Then, the Selby game. In the Patterson High gym, which seats about 400 if everybody rubs shoulders, a captive audience witnessed Carr, a freshman, and Josh Selby, Lake Clifton High’s star senior and the top recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com, go shot for shot in a thrilling 86-80 win for Lake Clifton. Carr went for 39, Selby for 36. Hundreds were turned away before tipoff, and those lucky enough to enter had to watch the entire JV game just so they could get a seat.
Before Carr’s arrival, Patterson played home games in front of 50-75 spectators. His arrival and booming celebrity drove district administrators to move home games to local colleges -- Morgan State, Bowie State and Coppin State -- just to accommodate fans. Those gyms sold out, too. Now, some of Baltimore’s top city talent was transferring into Patterson, not out of it.
“Oh you’ve got to see the Milford Mill dunk,” says Marc Stern of Capitol Hoops, who filmed several of Patterson’s games. “It was the regional championship game and they had to stop it for a couple of minutes.”
Carr led Patterson to a state championship appearance in his sophomore year and won the Class 3A title as a junior. One day before the Class 3A title game, his girlfriend Treshonda Williams gave birth to his daughter Averi at six pounds, one ounce. He would go on to score 28 points, dish nine assists and turn the ball over only once as the school won its first state title. Having committed to play at Seton Hall, just three hours from Baltimore, that January, Carr’s path appeared set.
He was the phenomenon raised on the coarse blacktops of East Baltimore. He graced the cover of Dime Magazine, did a GQ photoshoot and was featured on CNN as “Basketball’s Next Big Thing: Aquille Carr." But it was the proliferation of mixtapes -- whether from CapitolHoops, HoopsMixTape, CityLeagueHoopsTV – that catapulted Carr into an international search term, with pages and pages of videos to take in the show. Find the Aquille Carr playlist and you’ll have 72 videos and five hours of viewing content.
“There is no way to overstate how popular he was,” says Stern. “With his height parlayed with his pizzazz, he was just amazing to watch. Everyone watches the YouTube tapes, but until you see him up close, I don’t know. I’ve never seen a high school kid have so many autograph seekers at these things. I’ve never filmed a player more popular”
Despite his success, Carr wasn’t fielding offers from all over the nation. Apart from Seton Hall, Memphis was said to be interested, but transcript concerns meant his recruitment buzz didn’t resonate like his YouTube videos. His Seton Hall commitment was surprising because of questions surrounding his academic transcript. But by the end of his junior year, he elevated Patterson to the top of the Baltimore high school hoops and boasted maybe the largest following of any high school junior in the nation.
In the six-minute spot on CNN, interviewer Chris Lawrence asks Carr’s parents, Alan and Tammy, if they wish he’d be going to college that day.
“Every day,” Tammy nervously chuckles while Alan nods his head.
“I wish this could have been his last year,” he says.
And then it ended.
Martin suggested Carr should transfer from Patterson, a school with a 56-percent graduation rate, to get out of the inner city and away from the overwhelming celebrity of being “The Crimestopper.” He would enroll at St. Patrick’s High in Elizabeth, N.J., in March 2012 with hopes of improving his academic standing, but returned to Patterson only a month later. That August, he was arrested for assault and reckless endangerment after the mother of his child, 20-year old Williams, claimed Carr struck and kicked her. The charges were eventually dropped after he completed a 22-week counseling session.
Three months later, Carr enrolled at Arlington County Day, a prep powerhouse in Jacksonville, Florida before abruptly transferring later that week to Princeton Day Academy in Lanham, Maryland. Even with his verbal commitment to Seton Hall, the academic troubles scared off other colleges, further complicating what he needed to accomplish in his senior season.
“I guess you could say Aquille wasn’t a fan of the classroom, but so many of these kids wouldn’t be out here if it weren’t for football and basketball,” says Martin. “It’s really the only way we keep a lot of them coming.”
Carr spent his senior year pouring in 27 points per game at Princeton Day, where he once squared off with Huntington Prep’s Andrew Wiggins but otherwise dominated inferior competition. Carr outscored Wiggins in their showdown, but his 24 points came on 8-for-31 shooting -- including zero in the fourth quarter – in Princeton Day’s 75-69 loss. Plus, the unsettling question loomed: With lacking grades and a daughter to raise, would he need to forego his college eligibility to try to play professionally for a living? And would any team take a chance?
“Look, Aquille always wanted to go to college,” says Van Whitfield, who coached and mentored Carr at Princeton Day. “His whole family wanted him to go to college. But I’ll never forget when I was meeting with his family, his daughter was crying in the background. It was a stark reminder of what was at stake for him.”
With academically qualifying for Seton Hall almost out of the question and hopes of getting his family out of East Baltimore, Carr opted to sign with Charlotte-based agent Johnny Foster of Capital Sports. The plan was to earn international exposure at the Adidas Eurocamp and tour through China with former NBA stars Tracy McGrady, Gary Payton and Jason “White Chocolate” Williams with the goal of being selected in the D-League draft.
College basketball would not factor into Carr’s future.
“Aquille Carr! The Crimestopper? That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while,” ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla sounded surprised when asked about Carr and his performance at the Adidas Eurocamp a few months prior. Revered as an expert on European draft prospects and a former coach at the camp, Fraschilla didn’t mince words describing Carr’s performance against Europe’s top talent.
“He showed up and I thought to myself, ‘What in the world is he doing here?’” says Fraschilla. “And when he played, he was quite honestly very nondescript. I think he had a feeling like a lot of American kids that they’re going to go over and dominate and that’s just never the case. It never is.”
Carr was the only American to attend the camp. His inexperience was highlighted, and he played into the red flags that existed during his recruitment: The lack of pedigree, transferring high schools, an arrest, a child, a lack of coachability. Since most international teams only allow one or two Americans per team, many have pegged his chances of success at zero.
“I just gotta learn,” Carr says. “Like how they treated me in Europe? It felt like I wasn’t supposed to ... learn right now. It was like I was supposed to just know.”
Despite struggles at the EuroCamp and spending two weeks on tour in China as a part of the “Legends” tour, Carr was still selected in the third round -- 43rd out of 119 players -- of the D-League draft by the Delaware 87ers, just over an hour from Baltimore. Rumors abounded that the expansion team selected him for marketing purposes. With stagnant attendance, Carr played mostly in losses and, despite back-to-back 22-point performances in December, was cut after appearing in 10 games.
“It’s hard to ask (the coach) what my role is because he’s got 10, 11 more players that he’s gotta worry about,” Carr says. “At the same time, if I am asking you my role then you gotta let me know. I can’t just know my role. I’m straight out of high school. All these other players just came from college or four years of college, some of these guys have already played in the NBA. They already know and I’m asking you for help. There was just no helping because there was so much going on.”
On top of that, his father was sick, his relationship with his agent splintered and eventually ended, and being away from his daughter weighed on him.
“I didn’t really have any problems at Delaware, there was just a lot of off-the-court issues with my family,” Carr says. “My father got real sick and I couldn’t really find the person to help me out.”
When the 87ers cut Carr on Jan. 3, 2014 (Carr says that it was a mutual decision and asked for his release), Yahoo Sports’ NBA columnist Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted the news with the accompanying line “Another cautionary tale.” Predictably, Carr was not selected in the 2014 NBA draft. No team even agreed to a pre-draft workout.
Baltimore has produced diminutive stars before -- Shawnta Rogers at 5-4 and Muggsy Bogues at 5-3 -- but Carr would have just finished his freshman season this year. Bogues finished his collegiate career with 781 assists – then an ACC record -- at Wake Forest, where his jersey now hangs from the rafters. Rogers was the 1999 Atlantic-10 Player of the Year and was elected into the George Washington Hall of Fame in 2011. Bogues compiled a 15-year NBA career; Rogers never played a game in the NBA.
Carr says he pores over film of Nate Robinson and Isaiah Thomas, knowing he must cover 90 feet and that he can’t take plays off. His jump shot is far from NBA-caliber. But in his D-League film, the flashes remain. The crossover dribble still darts, he remains a terror on the break and he still hangs in the air just a bit longer than his defenders before scoring a bucket. But even as the clicks multiply, the mixtapes don’t show the turnovers, the selfish play he’s accused of or the off-the-court struggles.
At 20, Carr sits on the verge of becoming an afterthought. He may be another trivia answer to join the Ndudi Ebis and Korleone Youngs, but without any NBA minutes to show for it. Just a mixtape phenomenon, like many said he’d be.
The plan now is to try and get back into the D-League. His agent says teams from Israel and Belarus have called, but expresses little interest in having Carr play overseas. Now, Carr faces another four-month wait, which will consist of workouts and phone calls with hopes that some team will express interest. In the meantime, he bombards Instagram to remind his followers of his path (#GrindJustLikeWeShine, “like a pillow, I love when they sleep on me”). Several photos feature large wads of cash.
But the smile and enthusiasm haven’t faded throughout the entire interview. Carr’s confidence still brims, and he chuckles at the doubt surrounding him.
“You gotta understand, man. I know it’s going to be hard,” Carr says. “Everything in my life has been hard, but I’m a professional basketball player. I’m just here to be a student of the game now. Listen to the coach, listen to the GM and be the player they want me to be and provide for my daughter.”
Daniel – the new agent and college-aged founder of Hazan Sports Management -- rattles off his plan to rebrand his client. (“We’ve taken Aquille to hospitals, food shelters, we think it’s important for him to realize his influence.”) And Carr emphasizes that this is the life he chose. He mentions his daughter and his family at least once in every answer.
The explosiveness is still there. So is the shimmer and the smile. And he still has all those YouTube clips. So what’s missing?