Follow a Former College Star from NBA Dream to International Fame
These days, basketball truly is a global game.
NBA teams play against the best competition from international leagues during the preseason. Notable players like Jordan Farmar, Rudy Fernandez and Josh Childress have turned down NBA jobs to play overseas. Heck, the level of play has gotten so good that the NBA 2K guys added international teams to this year's game.
One of those teams is Real Madrid, where Jaycee Carroll plays.
After averaging 18.8 points and shooting 46.5 percent from three-point range over four years at Utah State University, Carroll went on to play professionally in Teramo, Italy (2008-09), Gran Canaria, Spain (2009-2011) and now Madrid, Spain (2011-current). He averaged over 19 points a game in two seasons with Gran Canaria.
Carroll recently took the time to talk with Bleacher Report about the process of becoming an international player, the highs and lows that come with that and his experiences in general.
When Did This Possibility First Jump on Your Radar?
It really first became an option, something I thought about for me after I guess my freshman year of college.
I had a teammate, Spencer Nelson, that graduated and went to the summer leagues. He went to camp with the Jazz, and, in the end, he ended up playing over, his first job was in Germany I believe.
And that's kind of when the thought first occurred to me that there was professional basketball besides the NBA.
How Did You Go from College Player in Utah to Overseas Pro Player?
I'm not exactly sure how I got so lucky. I had a great college basketball career, had a great senior year. And with that, I got some interest from some agents that started contacting me, started to tell me what they could do for me.
And one of them ended up being the agency I'm with: Priority Sports—Mark Bartelstein, Brad Ames out of Chicago. It just happened to be that Brad Ames, one of their agents, is a former Wyoming guy from Jackson Hole.
They went out to try and find a diamond in the rough I guess. And so I signed with that agency, and they got my foot in the door at a whole bunch of different places.
Coming out of college, there wasn't a huge rush for me from NBA teams. Ya know, size profile (author's note: Carroll is 6'3", 180 pounds). I heard a lot of times, "I don't pass the look test."
But they pulled a favor, so I got a workout with the Chicago Bulls. And I did really well. From there, I got 12 more pre-draft workouts with teams all over the country.
And then a couple near-misses on draft night. After that, European teams saw me play at summer league. That's how I ended up over here.
What Do You Mean About the 'Look Test'?
To be honest, I mean, I kinda wish they would have explained that a little better to me.
I try to explain it this way: Walking down the street, I don't stick out that much. I can blend in with a crowd. I put on a baseball hat, and I kinda look like a whole bunch of other people on the street. When I'm with my teammates, here or in college, they're a lot taller than the average person. In Utah and Spain, generally the color of their skin is a lot darker than mine.
So like I said, I didn't pass the look test. And I heard that a number of times.
One especially was with the Cleveland Cavaliers. I went on a summer workout with about 20 guys. They split us up into four different teams. Playing point guard, I led my team through the three-day round-robin workout, and my team won the championship. I played extremely well. And they brought me in with three other guys they thought had done pretty well.
One of their guys, I think it was their GM, said, "Ya know Jaycee, you did a great job, I think you played really well. The only thing is, you don't pass the look test very well."
Whatever that means, I heard it a lot.
I Remember Being Surprised When No One Picked You Up After Summer Leagues
I was pretty disappointed just about every summer league, especially my first year. My first year out of college, I got invited by like 13 different teams to come to pre-draft camp.
Draft night, we're sitting on the phone with the Raptors. And basically there were two guys, and if they were gone already by the time they got to their picks, I was probably gonna be their pick.
One was the Nets with Chris Douglas-Roberts. If Chris Douglas-Roberts was not available, there's a good chance they would've taken me.
And the next one, with a second-round pick, I think it was the Raptors. There was a player named Nathan Jawai that I actually played against last year with Barcelona. And if he would not have been on the draft board, there's a very good chance they would have taken me.
Now I'm not saying I'm positive they would have taken me, but they were on the phone with my agents, and this was kind of the conversation that was going on.
That summer league, I had spent it in Orlando with the New Jersey Nets. And they had me playing point guard. I had never played point guard at anything past probably my junior year of high school. And frankly, I did a great job.
I averaged 15 points a game. I was solid on defense. I got a breakaway dunk that everyone was surprised about because of the "look test." No one thought I could dunk like that. My agent's like, "Ah, my phones are blowing up from everybody. No one knew you could jump like that."
That kind of stuff.
And for the Orlando Summer League, I made the second-team All-Tournament. This was behind Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, these guys, these players. And to be honest, I was thinking, "Well, it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen."
On my team, I had Chris Douglas-Roberts and Ryan Anderson for the Nets. They were rookies. And Brook Lopez.
We're having these conversations, and I'm saying, "I hope things work out." They're saying, 'Man, you just scored 20 points in your first summer league. Obviously, someone's gonna pick you." Stuff like this.
Then I went with the Raptors at the Vegas Summer League. And I was just OK. I had a couple games where I scored 10 or 12 points in about 10 minutes.
Then I went back to the Rocky Mountain Review with the Nets again. Again, I was a point guard, and my first game against the Jazz actually, I scored 20-something.
After that game, I was getting excited and dumb and stuff. And I'm telling my agent, "If anyone calls, just tell them yes, I'll take it."
But that offer, it never came. I never got offered. I had some interest to go to vet camp and try my luck. Had things been a little different in my personal life, had I been single, my wife wasn't pregnant, maybe I would've tried to take a little more of a risk. But in that same time, I had a pretty nice offer to go to Italy and play, and I took it.
Did Your Family Jump at the Opportunity to Go Overseas?
So I was married and was going through this whole process with, actually my wife was six or seven months pregnant.
She was excited about it. We met our freshman year of college. So she knew how important basketball was to me. We had obviously talked about my aspirations.
My No. 1 goal from the age of 10 was to be an NBA basketball player. She knew that was my focus. She also knew Spencer Nelson, knew he was overseas and he had played.
As a young married couple, it sounded like a great adventure to go on together after college. So we were both pretty excited about the opportunity.
Any Previous International Experience That Helped with the Transition?
Being a missionary helped me tremendously coming overseas. I had already had that first experience being away from home, away from family and away from everything that really is relatable in my life.
So going to a new country, while it is of course a little scary, a little nerve-wracking, at least I'd known I'd done it before.
My first job was in Italy. And back while being a missionary, I had learned Spanish. So I was really able to do pretty well with Italian by the time I got down there.
However, I wasn't a fluent speaker or anything like that. I could understand probably 80 percent of what was spoken to me.
Being able to speak Spanish actually really did help me get my second job, which was in Gran Canaria, Spain.
They had seen me play in summer league the previous summer. They saw me play with the Nets. Then they saw me play with the Hornets and the Raptors. They were really interested.
And they have a lot of non-Spanish-speaking people on their team. So to get a guy like me that speaks Spanish to talk to newspapers, relate to fans, talk to the TV was a huge bonus and was probably a piece of the puzzle that helped me get that job over other guys that may have been available.
Once You Got Overseas, Did You Ever Think 'What in the World Am I Doing?'
I've been very fortunate with my overseas career. I've been in pretty good leagues, pretty well-established teams.
At the same time, my first experience, I remember now, walking up to my gym in Teramo, Italy. It had just weeds growing everywhere outside, graffiti on the side of the building. And the locker rooms were not even the equivalent to a rec center back home.
I kinda walked up and was like, "Wow, what is going on? Where am I? This is professional basketball, right? Why does it look so crummy?"
That was kinda the idea, right?
And then we get to practice, and my coach starts yelling at me in Italian. And every time I get the ball and start running, I think he's yelling stop, or he's just yelling go, or whatever.
And they called me for travels all the time because they have different ways of calling travel over here. So I had some frustrations as I started to play.
When and How Did Your Status in Europe Change?
It's actually really fun and exciting once you get a name.
I had a nice year in Italy. I finished the season as the third-leading scorer. And that helped me make the jump to Spain, which is considered the best country for basketball over here right now, from top to bottom.
So I was excited to come to Spain. I knew the language. I was going to an island, which seemed fantastic. And I had a two-year contract, so I was really excited about it.
And I had a great first year. I led the league in scoring. My team made the playoffs. So I had a coach that liked me. He let me play my style of basketball. I got the ball; I got to play ball screens. I got to run off screens and shoot threes and pretty much just had the green light. It was kinda fun, for sure.
I was actually surprised after that season. I didn't get any interest from bigger teams. I was on a mid-level, lower-level team in the Spanish League, and I didn't have any phone calls from a Barcelona, Madrid or any guys like this.
And I was frustrated. I was happy where I was, but I was still trying to climb the ladder.
So, in the end, I tried summer league that year. I was with the Celtics and played pretty well. But again, there was nothing.
So I went back to Gran Canaria and had another great year. My second year was actually even better. We made the King's Cup. That's actually where everything changed for me.
There's 16 teams in Spain, and the top eight teams in the league through the first half of the season are invited to a one-weekend, single-elimination tournament. And it's called the King's Cup. So it's a big deal to be able to go to this tournament.
In the very first game, we played Real Madrid. One of the big guys, one of the big, big teams. All of Europe watches this tournament. We're in a big 15,000-seat arena. It's full. And there's NBA scouts; there's European scouts. Teams from everywhere. Agents from everywhere. Everyone goes to this.
And in the very first game of the tournament, I came out and scored 30 points. I was like 5-of-6 from three, made a bunch, 5-of-5 from the free-throw line. I played ball screens, made good passes.
Long story short, that game changed everything for me.
After that, I pretty much had all the big teams knocking on my door. Barcelona was interested. Real Madrid was obviously interested. That's kinda where I turned some heads and opened some eyes for my career.
Is Your Role Different Now with Real Madrid Than It Was with Gran Canaria?
Yeah, it is quite different here, actually.
When you have one of the big teams like a Madrid, a Barcelona, a Panathinaikos, Olympiakos, pretty much they go out and sign 10 to 12 of the best guys they can find in Europe. Then every player kinda plays 20 minutes a game, out of 40.
And that's exactly where I am now. Last night I played 21 minutes.
So, my role when I'm on the court is very similar to what I had at Utah State. We run plays where I get to run off screens, shoot three-pointers, penetrate off of curl cuts, that sort of thing.
Unlike in Gran Canaria, I really don't have the ball in my hands that much. We have really good point guards, and basically our point guards play the ball screens. I come off screens and shoot shots. That's kinda my role.
I don't start usually. I usually play the second quarter and the fourth quarter. That's my rotation. That's what it's been for the last two seasons.
Is There Any Kind of a Brotherhood Among American Players Overseas?
Honestly, there really is. Being over in Europe, like you said, there is a brotherhood, a connection. We all have something we can relate to.
For 10 months, that's our family, that's our friends. Everything we do outside of our home is with them. Whether it's dinner, going to the beach in Gran Canaria, that kind of stuff.
We can relate to missing home, missing NFL football games, March Madness. So it really is a brotherhood. And normally when we go play other teams, we always go over and talk to the Americans and find out their situation and how they like it.
Do You Still Dream of Playing in the NBA? Have You Moved Past That?
I don't think about it on a daily basis. This summer, I actually signed a four-year extension with my team. Obviously, that says a lot about how happy I am here in Madrid.
But, there definitely is a part of me that still has that idea in the back of my head to go home and play basketball.
Pablo Prigioni, he plays for the New York Knicks right now. He's 35, 36 years old, and he just barely got his first NBA job. There's Mirza Teletovic for the Brooklyn Nets; he's over there right now. Vitor Faverani, he was in our league last year. He's been playing some big minutes for the Boston Celtics.
So all of the sudden, for some reason, some team will get interest in a guy and bring him over.
Gary Neal, who was on the San Antonio Spurs (now Milwaukee Bucks), I played against him in Italy a number of times. I played against him in Spain. Interestingly enough, I averaged more points a game than him and stuff like that. I played against him a number of times, so I know him quite well.
Do You Ever Miss America?
More so in my first two or three years. We always kinda had the mindset that over here was not home. Over here was away from home. This was vacation. I don't know how you want to call it, but it was away from home. Our lives were back in the States.
And then slowly, over the years, that mentality's kinda changed. Our life is here, and when we go home, it's summer vacation. And to tell you the truth, that was a really good thing when that idea finally kinda changed to "this is actually our lives and not just a moment in time."
Because now we do find friends over here. We do look to not just be tourists over here but to find a life. I guess that's how it felt.
Before, it felt like we were over here as tourists, and our homes were back home. But it's kinda changed. Now this is home, and when we go back home, we're on vacation.
What Advice Would You Give a College Player Who May Be a Fringe NBA Guy?
The world is so globalized, and it's so easy to get information back and forth, that if you're a guy who's gonna be in the D-League for a bunch of years, for a couple years trying to crack the NBA, I would absolutely say forget about it and go find a nice job in Europe and try and play really well there.
Because NBA scouts, they know what's going on over here with the top players. They know what goes on over here with the top teams. And if you do well over here, those teams will find you.
I named a bunch of guys, and the list goes on and on. Alan Anderson, who was with the Toronto Raptors last year (now Brooklyn Nets), I played against him when he was at Barcelona. On my team right now, I got Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez who played in the NBA. Nikola Mirotic was drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Sergio Llull, he was drafted by the Houston Rockets.
So if you're so, so close, go ahead and stay for a vet-camp invite and fight your way through a vet camp and see if you can make it.
But if it turns into looking like a full year of D-League or second-year D-League, that kind of stuff, get out of there. And look for a great opportunity in Europe.
Because basketball over here is great. It's high-level. And NBA guys will find you if you're what they're looking for.
For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter: @AndrewDBailey.