Jeffrey Carroll has had anything but an ordinary path to the NBA. In fact, his path to basketball itself was as unorthodox as it comes.
After seeing it as little more than a free-time hobby in his early age, Carroll would only seriously begin playing the game in middle school. With his father as a driving force, Carroll blossomed, eventually earning a Division I scholarship at Oklahoma State. But Carroll’s path took another turn as he was redshirted his freshman year in Stillwater.
Five years, three coaches, one breakout junior season and 85 total games later, Carroll began the pre-draft process this spring, working out with nearly half of the teams in the league. After going undrafted, Carroll signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on an Exhibit 10 deal, one that offers guaranteed money for Carroll if he either makes the team or signs with the South Bay Lakers after being waived.
Carroll talked recently with Lakers Outsiders about his late start to the sport, his time at Oklahoma State, the pre-draft workout tour and his expectations with the Lakers.
Honi Ahmadian: What have the last 48 hours been like for you?
Jeffrey Carroll: I had my watch party, like a gathering with my family, in my hometown of Dallas. I just had a small group together. I didn’t really know what was gonna happen on draft night and decided to keep an open mind and just be ready for whatever, honestly.
As far as the pre-draft process, I mean it’s been a total blessing to even go through something like that and being able to travel from place to place. I had to do 11 teams total so just being able to see how different teams and organizations do things and competing against really highly talented players like myself as well, just competing for a job in the NBA. So pretty much just treating it like a job interview going from place to place, putting my best foot forward and, you know, look as good as I possibly can. I just really tried to showcase my talent and what got me to this point and trust all the work I’ve done. It’s been a pretty fun process.
I went undrafted and shortly after, probably not even 20 minutes after, my agent calls me and says “You’re gonna go to the Lakers. They’re really high on you and they’re going to give you an Exhibit 10.” He kind of broke it down for me what it really meant. He said “We basically just want to put you in the best situation possible as far as starting out your career. We think that you going to L.A. is the best chance for you to do that cause they think really highly of you and you can be really effective right away.” We just agreed on that and from there the news just kind of came out.
HA: How was the preparation for the workouts and transitioning into the league?
JC: I was doing my pre-draft training in Atlanta, Georgia. I had a trainer and went twice a day doing weights, conditioning, ball-handling, pretty much really working on things that could really take my game to that next level. Going from the collegiate level to the NBA, I just wanted to add more stuff to my game to be more versatile and more effective out there on the court. So pretty much did two-a-days starting off and it kind of got busy like right before the combine but I didn’t actually go to the combine.
As soon as I lost my last game of the season, I pretty much packed my stuff up that next day. I left and went home and pretty much went straight down to Atlanta to get started. So I really wasted no time to keep working.
I think the worst part was probably all the traveling itself. You hop on a plane. You go to a team. You get in maybe the evening before. You get in, you get relaxed. You pretty much go to sleep, try to get some rest, get ready. You wake up. And then from there, you work out and then like right after, they send you back out to the airport. I think it’s just doing those back-to-backs, where you fly in and you gotta work out right away. But these teams don’t care about that. I mean all they’re worried about is what you do during your session, during your workout. So pretty much, being mentally ready, seeing who I’m going to be doing the workout with, trying to probably get a leg up. If I know the night before, I would try to look some of these guys up because, I mean, a lot of guys I’ve never even seen or heard of before.
HA: You and your father have a close relationship. How much of a driving force was he early in your life both on and off the court?
JC: My dad, you know, he’s my world. He’s the one who pretty much gave me all the resources to play the game of basketball. He played at East Texas Baptist University. He has a pretty high IQ and he comes from a basketball background. So, you know, he gets the game and he tries to break it down for me. If there’s certain things I don’t get, I’ll just ask him and he’ll help me. All the workouts, just me and him in the gym for hours every day is just something that we wanted to take pride in because I guess I’m called a late bloomer. I’m 23, I’m older, I was a senior. But I think that maybe helped me really develop my game cause I got better; I feel like I’m getting better and better as I’m getting older because I’m still learning. I didn’t start playing basketball until like seventh grade. I started maybe later than most guys. I mean pretty much just laying a foundation down with my dad and working every day on things and he’d just help me do things like get my shot right and just being in the weight room and kind of doing things that back then that guys in middle school and high school didn’t really do. Guys don’t really lift weights in high school. It’s pretty much just like if you’re more talented then you’ll probably win. It’s just how it is at those lower levels.
For me, just slowly learning the game day by day in middle school and high school and then going to the collegiate level, being able to play in probably the best conference in college basketball, I think all of that was just pretty much everything,
HA: It’s rare for a player to redshirt for a year and even make an NBA Summer League roster. Looking back, what effects did that redshirt season have on your career?
A: It was maybe the biggest and best decision I’ve made in my basketball career. Coming in, mentally and physically, I just wasn’t ready all the way. As far as my body and I had to gain weight. I came in at 190 and over the course of that year, I was gaining weight and by the end of the year, I was 210. That right there helped my game and took it to a new level because I came in as a knockdown shooter but I really wanted to crash the glass and attack the rim. I think me putting that weight on, I was able to physically impose my will on people and draw contact, be able to finish and just using my frame in a bunch of different ways, as a far as guarding, rebounding, all that different stuff.
With that and putting countless hours in the gym, because I had nothing but time, all I had to do was just worry about me bringing my best day in and day out during practice for my freshman year. I wanted to do whatever to help the team but like knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to play in the games, I could still go hard at practice and push my teammates and get them ready. For me to get a good look at the live action, those practices I treated like games and I take all of that as just kind of taking my game to the next level.
HA: In high school, you were more of a back-to-the-basket guy. In college, you transitioned to more of a wing player. How difficult was that transition? How much do you think having those post skills will help at the NBA level?
A: I pretty much played post my whole career until my senior year [of high school]. I was not comfortable at all on the wing. I could shoot but that was about it. As far as putting the ball on the floor and being able to make plays, that was something that I really wanted no business doing. I didn’t want to get out of my comfort zone.
I moved to the wing which was like a totally different game. It was like trying to learn how to walk again. You gotta figure out your spots, what moves I can use to be effective at this spot and also guarding people at that position, as well. It’s a two-way street with that.
In college, I really didn’t have to play back to the basket at all. I think being able to finish in different ways, both hands. I’m athletic, I can dunk the ball. I think being able to get tip-ins or like rebounding, in general, having that knack for the ball around the rim, I think that will translate. I can post-up guys my size or smaller. Just being able to take things from high school and kind of use them still.
HA: What changed heading into your junior year that led to the leap in your production?
JC: That was my second coaching change, so I’d probably start off with a totally different system. A system that I clearly thrived in (with) just how fast we played because I’m uptempo. I love to play fast, go up and down, you know, score quick. And that’s something we really preached that year and, like, getting out quick on the break.
Like me in transition is probably like one of my biggest strengths. Being able to get the ball in the open court, being able to bring it up, being able to stop and pop it. I think its just how fast we played and how tough we were, defensively.
I think all the work prior to that year going into it, I was still like working harder than ever and once I played those first couple games and got like 20, 20, 20 (points) and getting like 8, 9 rebounds a game, I was like ‘I can do this every night.’ Once I got that confidence and that swagger about it, there’s was no looking back.
HA: This past season you played on the ball more. How much did that help your game in becoming more of a lead guard?
JC: I think it’ll translate easy especially with how the league is turning into today. Everyone is becoming more versatile. Everyone is starting to be able to do multiple things as opposed to being good at one or two things.
HA: You had three coaches in five years at Oklahoma State. What type of insight did each coach offer into your game?
JC: They all kind of saw me differently. They all had their own idea of what my role on the team should be.
I just tried to take something from each coach, just try to take something that really helped me that I really liked. All three of them have different beliefs and values on how I should play and how a team should be run. I think pretty much taking bits and pieces from all three of those coaches in ways like taking all the good things and using all them because it’s different minds, different opinions. Just taking everything from these coaches and putting it towards my game.
HA: Are you familiar with the Lakers play style and how do you see your game fitting in with the rest of the roster?
JC: I know that the Lakers are very up-tempo. They like to get up and down pretty fast. I think that right there alone is where I can thrive, being around playmakers and stuff like that. It’ll just make my job a lot easier just being a whole bunch of professional guys. Guys who are already playing and stuff like that.
HA: Is it a little extra special playing in the same city as your former teammate Jawun Evans?
JC: Absolutely. Whenever I worked out with (Los Angeles) last week or so, I went and chilled with him right after. He plays for the Clippers and he’s right there in LA. Just catching up with him, he was telling me ‘I love being out here so much.’ It’s totally different especially with me coming from Dallas.
That right there alone, its definitely part of the reason why I’m pumped because I know people out there already. I’m in one of the best cities, in my opinion. It can’t get any better than that.
HA: Did seeing Jawun Evans have such a successful rookie year give you any extra motivation or confidence heading into the draft process?
JC: It does for sure because just knowing I’ve been around him. I know how great of a guy he is. So just friend to friend, I’m just happy for his success so early on. He found the right situation and he was able to show and prove it.
Just seeing that and pretty much trying to find the right situation for me so I can be like Jawun and get in the right system and all that, I think the rest will take care of itself.
HA: Is there anyone in particular that you modeled your game after?
JC: I have about three guys that I really watched that I tried to take a lot from. One’s Devin Booker. He’s somebody I’ve been kind of following since he got to Kentucky. He didn’t really have to show much at Kentucky because he had so much talent around him. But seeing how smooth he is, he doesn’t ever play sped up and he takes the right shots.
I watch a lot of Klay Thompson. I’ve been following Thompson since he went to Washington State. Just how he shoots the ball extremely well or his footwork, just how he uses space to get open and spacing and just him taking the right shots, I watch that.
And then I also watch Paul George as well. He’s a taller guy, taller than me, but he plays with a lot of pace. You don’t have to play fast to be effective or to use moves and stuff like that. And both sides of the ball, Paul and the same for Klay, he can guard pretty much everyone. Just seeing how he guards those guys and how he makes it hard on them and he tries to just make their job a lot harder.
Pretty much taking all those things from those guys on both sides of the ball. I mean, I can’t play if I can’t guard. I have to be able to guard first before I can even show what I can do offensively.
HA: Do you remember your workout with the Lakers and did anything stick out about your time there?
It was weird because our warm up, we had to do a pull-up test. This was before the on-court work. We had to do a max pull-up test and you have to try to do as many as you can. I was like “Should we be doing this right before we’re about to work out and every shot matters. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to feel my arms.” But at the same time, I can’t look weak.
So I did 20 and I got done and I was like, my arms were locked up. I was like “I got to go out to the court quick” and I started putting up some jumpers before we like really start. I did that and I was fine. But I think that, I was like ‘Wow. I haven’t seen this anywhere else.'”
HA: What was it like meeting Magic Johnson?
JC: It was like a dream come true. My mom’s favorite player was Magic because she loved the Lakers whenever she was growing up. Her favorite color is purple and she was raving about that then whenever I took the picture with Magic, I sent it to her and she was like ‘Oh my God you met Magic. That’s my favorite player, you know that?’ and I was like yeah. I definitely made her day with that.
But me meeting him, just coming from not even knowing if you want to play basketball growing up to you’re about to be in the NBA. You’re talking to Magic Johnson, a legend who’s been through it, played at the highest level. Just meeting him was kind of surreal like ‘Wow. This is Magic. He’s going to make some big decisions. He’s going to decide if he wants me or not.’ So I wanted to try to do something to impress him and stand out. It was really, really cool though making small talk with him. It was definitely a good experience.
HA: The Lakers have drafted and signed a couple of guards from Kansas in Svi Mykhailiuk and Malik Newman. What do you remember about your games against them the last few years?
Malik Newman, this is my first year competing against him because he went to Mississippi State so he transferred in so I only got to see him play one year.
I’ve been playing against Mykhailiuk the last two to three years I think. We guard each other every time and we always went at each other. I think teaming up will actually be cool because we know each other. We don’t talk like that on the court because we’re out there trying to kill each other.
It was kind of cool sweeping them this year, I’m not going to lie. Probably whenever I see them, I’ll probably give them a little trash talk about it. But right now, we’re all trying to achieve one goal which is the Summer League championship and, for us, landing a roster spot as well. Right now, we all need each other. That’s how I see it and we have to put all that aside and just try to go win the Summer League championship and then from there, we all win.
HA: Your only time playing in the NCAA tournament, you went up against Michigan and Moe Wagner who the Lakers also drafted. What do you remember about going up against him?
JC: I remember that game because they set the tournament record for made threes in the game. I honestly, it really felt like that didn’t miss a single shot that game. I remember the score was like 91-90. They barely won. We fought back but we just ran out of time.
But he’s an extremely talented player. I got to see him live playing against him. I played well, he played well. We just came up short because they played out of their minds. It’s a really fun game to be a part of.
HA: Are you excited to get out to LA and start training with the rest of the team?
JC: Absolutely. I love being in California. I don’t know what it is about it. It’s just surreal because it’s the Lakers. One of the best franchises ever to exist. It’s so much tradition. Even to be somewhat a part of that is just a blessing.
Just for me to even get an opportunity with them because I know there’s going to be a lot of eyes on us especially because we won it last year and stuff like, they’re going to want to see who is next up and who do they have vying for a roster spot. It’ll be a really fun experience and I’m really excited to get out there.
HA: Alright, I’ve got one more question and it’s the most important. Have you had In-N-Out before?
JC: I’ve had it, yes. We have them in Dallas. But I’m honestly not a fan of it. I don’t know how much hate I’ll get for that. But I just don’t see anything special about it. I may need to give it another shot. I’m not the biggest fan on it. I wouldn’t give it a lot of praise.
HA: There’s a theory that the closer you are to LAX, the better the In-N-Out burger is so we might have to change your mind on that.
JC: I think so, too. I mean I had it in Texas. It could be different. I’m sure it is. I’m going to definitely give it another shot when I get out there.