“Usually, I stick a freshman in there and they usually don’t play well,” Boeheim said. “So you can say, ‘See you’re not quite ready.’”
But the minutes Carter-Williams got, even if they were scraps, he seized. He still remembers one game last season against Providence. Boeheim called his name. When he checked in, Syracuse had the ball. Immediately, he drove to the basket and got a layup. The Orange got a stop at the other end, he came back down and drilled a 3.
“That made it worse,” Boeheim said. “You could see that he could play.”
But when he got back on defense, one slip-up (he had to take away the middle, but gave up a 3) landed him on the bench again.
“I knew that just because any little mistake I made he would jump all over me,” Carter-Williams said. “But I tried to play, in the short amount of time, as best as I possibly could. I knew that once I went out and played and played well, I knew it was putting him in a tough position.
“It’s a bunch of little moments like that where he was just on me. I think he was on me because he had to find a little bit of reason for me to not play, but then again he wanted me to be the best player I could be. I do wish I could have played from the beginning, but I’m glad it happened. It made me work a lot harder. I was just determined to get better.”
Boeheim could see him putting the work in. Carter-Williams, at 6 feet 6 inches, added 10-12 pounds, he improved his defense, he became mentally tougher.
“He understands the game,” Boeheim said. “He sees the game. He’s got a great feel for the game.”
In just one year as a starter, the buzz is that Carter-Williams has the potential to be an NBA lottery pick. (“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “But we’re just going to see how the rest of the season goes.”) But watching so much of last season from the sidelines, there’s something sweet about being behind the wheel for this run.
“Now we’re watching the team with Michael being a large part of it and it makes us and Michael appreciate it more,” Carter-Zegarowski said. “It makes you value something that he probably could’ve taken for granted had he not stepped right in. He definitely cherishes this opportunity.”
Carter-Zegarowski said she and her family will fly to Washington to see Carter-Williams play Thursday against Indiana.
Nothing about the past week has been easy, she said. They’ve stayed with a friend since the fire.
Sometimes, she says, it will hit her that all of her baby pictures are gone, that there are things that she can’t replace.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “Everybody’s had their moments throughout the day where we just want to go home.”
Teammates have helped make things easier for Carter-Williams.
“At times like this, you want to have your teammate’s back,” said forward C.J. Fair. “With what his family’s going through, I know it’s tough for him, but luckily he has a big family that supports each other, so hopefully he can overcome this.”
And as a family, they will use the game as a mental getaway, knowing that you can’t control life’s highs and lows, but you can get through them.
“It kind of gives us something to look forward to and stay positive,” Carter-Zegarowski said. “I think, emotionally, it’s going to take a long time to move on from that. We’re just trying to stay positive and believe something good comes out every things bad. We’re just going to try to stay focused on that and stay close as a family.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.