There’s Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s bruiser Demetrius Harris with a rebound, trying to get back to the hoop. Where’s Michael Carrera?
There he is, seemingly dropping out of the sky and devouring Harris with his 7-foot wingspan, like Cookie Monster on a snickerdoodle.
There’s a high carom off a missed jumper with four Panthers waiting for it to come down. Where’s Michael Carrera?
There he is, afterburning as if the Top Gun soundtrack is at his back, all elbows and enormous mitts like air-to-air missiles. Splash four MiGs.
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There are five Gamecocks on the court and none is wearing No. 24. Where’s Michael Carrera?
There he is how could you miss him? Jumping up and down on the USC bench, crazy-eyed and towel-waving to pump up the crowd.
After a bunch of things went wrong Sunday night during USC’s season debut, a great many went right. Among all the things that panned out, perhaps none was more compelling than the meteoric appearance of the 6-foot-5 freshman from Venezuela.
Carrera was a key cog in the Gamecocks’ 82-75 victory, but there was much more to his night than 17 points and 15 rebounds. There was his extreme enthusiasm, which was like throwing meat at a pack of rabid, rebounding pit bulls.
Then there was the intimidation factor. It has been a long time since the Gamecocks had a player with a bloodhound’s nose for a rebound like Carrera. By game’s end, there was a feeling that if there was a ball banging around on a rim in the middle of the night and Carrera was sound asleep on the other side of the campus, he’d still find a way to come down with it.
“You have to play through your strengths,” USC coach Frank Martin said. “As a human being, you have to be who you are and not try to be someone you’re not.”
Carrera plays like the Tasmanian Devil (with slightly less slobber), which is his greatest blessing and curse, according to Martin.
“Mike’s biggest strength is his passion. Mike’s biggest weakness is his passion — understanding how not to allow that passion to keep you away from being on task with what your team is trying to do,” Martin said. “There were certain times when he was so wrapped up with the moment that he didn’t listen, so he couldn’t get to the next play.”
Martin said, in time, Carrera should be able to get his fire under control.
In the meantime, his teammates are glad to see Carrera do to another team what he does to his own in practice.
“What you see on court is every day in practice,” senior guard LaShay Page said.
Damien Leonard already has paid the price for being Carrera’s teammate. Earlier this month, a wild elbow broke his nose, forcing him to wear a face mask.
Page, Lakeem Jackson and Brenton Williams all nodded their heads vigorously when asked if they thought it was a matter of time before they suffer injuries of their own.
For Carrera himself, it was a matter of time before he landed with Martin and USC. Martin is a rebound-first coach whose first priority upon arriving at USC was securing a rebounding machine. When legendary Montrose (Md.) Christian coach Stu Vetter put out the word that he was sitting on one of the best window cleaners he had ever seen, events transpired rapidly.
Put it this way:
There’s Frank Martin, searching frantically for a rebounder to round out his recruiting class. Where’s Michael Carrera?
There he is, right by the phone.
“Michael Carrera’s recruitment was one phone call,” Martin said. “That’s the kind of passion that kid has. That’s the kind of belief he has. He said he always wanted to play for me, and it was one phone call. I made that phone call and he said, ‘Coach, I’ve got so much respect for you and I get the chance to play in the SEC? I’ll take that right away.’
“That’s how simple it was.”