Explaining the DNA of West Virginia guard Jevon Carter requires a clip of Sean Connery from “The Untouchables” growling, “That’s the Chicago way.”
Carter played high school ball at Proviso East in Maywood, Ill., a suburb of the Windy City. The school has produced players like Doc Rivers, Michael Finley, Jacob Pullen, Shannon Brown and Dee Brown. There’s a legacy that is passed like a badge of honor. If you play ball at Proviso East, you’re supposed to be a bad dude.
“Each city claims a level of toughness and I’m not gonna say any of them has a corner on the market,” Texas coach Shaka Smart says. “But Chicago guards have a tenacity and ruggedness. They will not take a back seat to anyone. Jevon Carter is a great example of that.”
Carter, a 6-foot-2 senior, has been named to All-Big 12 defensive team his first three seasons and last season was named the conference’s defensive player of the year. He topped that by being named the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Defensive Player of the Year.
“He has the will to play defense,” says Baylor senior point guard Manu Lecomte. “Not a lot of people play like he does. Some guys might think they’re really playing defense, but they need to check out how Carter guards people.”
“He’s most definitely a dog,” Kansas senior guard Devonte’ Graham says. “He’s got a pit bull mentality.”
At both Proviso East and West Virginia, Carter found himself arriving as a freshman to a team filled with veteran guards. He made the astute decision that the best way to get on the court was to be a demon on defense.
“Where I come from, I’ve always been small, and I’ve always been told that somebody was always better than me,” Carter said. “I just always had to prove they were wrong.”
During his high school career, Carter had problems proving he was worth a scholarship to a power conference school. He was 6-foot-2 but didn’t have impressive measurables. He was a “tweener” – lacking the apparent skills to play point guard and falling short in the height and athletic ability needed to play as a two-guard. Illinois, Northwestern and DePaul showed no interest.
The summer after his senior year, Carter was playing for Team NLP, an AAU team, in a tournament in Orlando. It was an 8 a.m. game in the Milkhouse, a facility known for its
frigidity. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was on hand to watch another player. In Carter’s words, “I killed it.”
Huggins, the soon to be Hall of Fame coach, appreciated the defensive effort displayed by Carter. Anyone who has witnessed an early morning AAU game understands that defense – the kind of defense Huggins loves – is rarely seen.
“If he’s not the hardest-working player I’ve ever coached, he’s tied for first,” Huggins says. “He brought it, I didn’t have to get it out of him. That’s what I liked about him when I saw him in the summer. He played so hard.”
Carter’s first season (2014-15) with the Mountaineers coincided with Huggins utilizing the Press Virginia defensive style that has been the team’s imprimatur. West Virginia led the nation in turnovers and reached the Sweet 16. Carter benefitted from playing with senior guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.
“His freshman year we tried to play him some at point but he wasn’t Juwan Staten,” Huggins said. “We moved him off the ball. That’s when he realized how much he didn’t know and how much he had to learn.”
It was after his freshman season that Carter charted the remainder of his career.
“He came in and told me, ‘coach, I wanna be good,’” Huggins recalls. “I asked him, ‘You wanna be good or do you wanna be great?’ He said he wanted to be great and we talked about what that takes. He has decided to put in the extra work. He’s in the gym all the time. He has worked at it.”
Each season he has improved his field goal and 3-point shooting percentages. His scoring average has improved from 8.1 as a freshman to 9.5 to 13.5 last season. He lives five minutes from the WVU practice facility and has the pass code for 24-hour access.
That came in handy as Carter carried West Virginia’s Sweet 16 loss to Gonzaga as an off-season albatross. The Mountaineers trailed the eventual national runner up by three points in the final minute. Carter hoisted a contested 3-pointer that missed and got a second chance when WVU rebounded it and Carter again missed a challenged shot.
Another offensive rebound provided a final chance but Carter tried to pass to teammate Daxter Miles Jr. but time ran out.
Carter says he’s watched the film of the final possession about 100 times. He wonders if he should have tried to drive to score or drive to dish instead of trying the second 3-pointer. The woulda/coulda/shoulda drove Carter to work on every facet of his game.
He withdrew his name from the NBA Draft after attending workouts and receiving the feed back that can help fuel his senior season.
“They want to see how well I can be a point guard, my leadership, my play making skills, my toughness and my defense,” Carter says of the evaluations.
Through the Mountaineers’ first seven games, Carter’s numbers indicate his off-season work is paying dividends. He leads West Virginia in scoring at 18.1 per game while also averaging 5.4 assists and 4.4 steals per game.
“He can do a lot of things, that’s what people are missing,’’ Huggins says. “He runs our offense for us. He makes shots. He gets the ball where it’s supposed to go.’’
And Carter has a big fan in Smart, the Texas coach.
“He’s terrific,” Smart says. “He has such a competitive will power. It’s contagious. It effects his team and it effects the other team and it seems like it gets stronger as the game goes on. At our place last year, it was a back and forth and we had a slight lead late, but he just willed his team to a win. He refused to lose. He did what a leader should do.”