Monday, March 29, 1999

System can work - ask Carrawell

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — He comes straight from the sad, urban American cliche of guns, drugs and single-parent families. Chris Carrawell, who is 21 years old, saw his father for the first time three weeks ago. The man was in the team hotel at the ACC Tournament. He just showed up.

        Carrawell didn't have time to feel awkward, angry or sad. He didn't have time to feel anything.

        “I'm coming down the hall to eat, and this guy comes up,” Carrawell said Sunday. “I guess he was my father. He didn't look like me, though.”

        The Duke junior forward described the man to his mother who raised him. She said it sounded like his father. “She's the only one that would know,” Carrawell said.

        Their conversation wasn't deep. “Don't come around when the going's good,” Carrawell told the man. “Come around when I need you the most, like when I was young.”

A self-made man
        Carrawell has made his way without his father. He grew up poor in north St. Louis, playing ball on asphalt courts, beneath hoops with double rims and chain nets, never outside his neighborhood. “I didn't go looking for trouble,” he said.

        He signed at Duke, a place of “freshmen driving BMWs” as Carrawell described it. It must have seemed like the far side of the moon. But Carrawell embraced the university, trusted it, gave it a chance. Carrawell came without a skeptic's heart. It's amazing, considering his background.

        Now he's a sociology major, on track to graduate. He was quiet and shy in high school. Now, you can't shut him up. His mother says he has “blossomed” at Duke.

        Carrawell will start his 39th straight game of the year tonight. Duke will try to fulfil its destiny and beat Connecticut for the national title. It's a happy ending, no matter what. The system worked. Carrawell makes lots of people money. Duke helps make him the person he always knew he could be. If only college sports had more transactions such as this.

        When schools aren't exploiting athletes, they can do wonderful things for them. When athletes aren't dieting on false hopes and misguided aspirations, they can help themselves.

        Duke is richer for accepting Carrawell. He is better for the experience. Society is improved by his presence.

        The NCAA has to love this kid. He is every image the organization wants to project. Carrawell is the epitome of the student-athlete deal.

A richer man
        Tonight, 41,000 people will jam Tropicana Field. Tens of millions more will watch on TV. The NCAA will make ungodly amounts of money, something like $217 million from this year's tournament alone. To make the games appear as something greater than commercial entertainment, they need players such as Carrawell.

        In pickup games at Fairground Park near his home, neighbors bet on teams that included him in their lineups. Carrawell didn't have two nickels to make his pockets rattle.

        “Money can be a little light,” Carrawell said, “but it costs $30,000 to go to Duke. I don't have to pay anything. It's an even trade. Players (should) be happy to get an education. You're not going to experience anything else like this in life. You can struggle a little bit knowing after you graduate, the money will be there.”

        Carrawell doesn't have Elton Brand's muscle or Trajan Langdon's touch. But you can't tell him his time at Duke will be any less beneficial.

        “To play in a game like (tonight), a lot of guys in St. Louis wouldn't even think of something like that,” Carrawell said.

        Credit the school for giving Carrawell the chance. Credit Carrawell for taking it. It works out this way, sometimes. But not nearly enough.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

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