By Matt Jenkins
---- — Michael Carter-Williams has never technically met Paul Pierce. The Boston Celtics star did pass Carter-Williams by once when he was young, and that stuck with the Hamilton resident.
Soon, the two will cross paths on a basketball court somewhere, with Pierce playing for the Celtics, or some other team, and Carter-Williams playing for whichever team selects him in tomorrow night’s NBA Draft.
Carter-Williams has grown from a young Celtics fan looking for an autograph from the team’s best player to a 6-foot-6 point guard out of Syracuse University who is projected to be a lottery pick (top 14).
Even though the two remain strangers, Pierce encouraged people to follow Carter-Williams on Twitter three weeks ago, calling him “one of Massachusetts’ finest.”
“I never met Paul, but we have the same agent (Jeff Schwartz). The guys in the agency (Excel Sports Management) tease me because I told them when I was little I asked Paul Pierce for an autograph,” Carter-Williams said yesterday while waiting for the train that would carry him from Philadelphia to New York City.
“I think they had just lost and he might not have seen me, but I thought he ignored me. It wasn’t hatred, but I disliked him for a long time. When the agency found out they definitely brought it to his attention. They tease me about it and he gave me a shoutout.”
If his time playing for Syracuse legend Jim Boeheim in front of thousands of adoring fans at the Carrier Dome didn’t help Carter-Williams understand Pierce’s mental state that day many years ago, then the whirlwind pre-draft tour he just wrapped up surely did.
“I know it was a lot like that at Syracuse. They don’t have an NBA team, so the fans are pretty excited to see us,” Carter-Williams said. “I know that you can’t see everybody, you just gotta try to do your best. That’s all you can do.”
Carter-Williams obviously has no lingering hard feelings for Pierce. At this point, he’s just excited about closing in on a boyhood dream.
Since packing up and leaving Syracuse University in early May, Carter-Williams has been busy preparing for the draft process, working out for NBA teams, and conducting interviews with front office personnel.
Along the way, he’s gone across the country and back, living out of a suitcase and trying to adjust to life on the road.
“It’s definitely a little tiresome and I’m just trying to fight through it,” Carter-Williams said. “I think finishing up workouts and going to (New York) and all this fun stuff is another step closer to my dream, and I can’t wait.”
By all accounts, Carter-Williams won’t have to wait long tomorrow night.
A sure sign that Carter-Williams will be off the board relatively early is that he was one of only 10 draft entries who was invited to the “green room”, where the players, agents, and some family members sit on draft night.
All the big names will be there: Kentucky’s (and Everett’s) Nerlens Noel, Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Maryland’s Alex Len, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, Michigan’s Trey Burke, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum.
Carter-Williams will be accompanied by his agent, Schwartz, his mother Mandy Zegarowski and stepfather Zach Zegarowski, and his father Earl Williams and his wife Rosa.
The support for Carter-Williams will go way beyond that small group, however.
“There’s like 40 people going,” Mandy Zegarowski said. “We have 13 rooms booked at the Westin, where the NBA players are staying.”
The entire support system is hoping Carter-Williams ends up with a good match for his skills, but predicting what hat NBA Commissioner David Stern hands him is difficult.
Carter-Williams, who averaged 11.9 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.9 rebounds this year as a sophomore at Syracuse, has received favorable feedback from his workouts, eliminating many questions about his jump shot and proving that he has better than average athleticism for a player his size.
“I think I fit in with a team that will let me play right away. I sat one year out of the last two years and I think that me going in and learning a system will benefit me in the long run, and the team also,” Carter-Williams said. “I want to go somewhere that best fits me.”
There are definitely teams targeting point guards in the first half of the draft, and some of those are successful organizations.
Many mock drafts have Carter-Williams going to the Dallas Mavericks at No. 13. Carter-Williams enjoyed his time in Dallas a couple weeks ago, and walked away feeling like the team was interested.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are picking at No. 12 and their general Manager Sam Presti, a Massachusetts native, traveled to New York to watch Carter-Williams work out privately. There is speculation that the Thunder could be looking to solidify their backcourt as its depth was exposed a bit in the playoffs when Russell Westbrook went down with an injury.
Other mock drafts have Carter-Williams going earlier to teams like Sacramento (No. 7) and Detroit (No. 8).
Overall, Carter-Williams worked out twice for Phoenix, which is picking fifth, Sacramento, Dallas, New Orleans (6th), Utah (14th), Detroit, and Philadelphia (11th).
“He’s kind of anxious because you really have no idea, and I don’t think we will until that night, until he goes,” Zegarowski said. “He was officially invited to the green room, which is awesome. There were only 10 players invited and I did talk to an NBA executive who said they don’t usually invite someone to the green room who is not going to get picked (in the lottery).”
All the pre-draft workouts and interviews are officially behind Carter-Williams now, and the only question remains is what team will call his name.
Looking back, Carter-Williams has enjoyed the whole process.
“It’s been nice seeing the different cities and meeting the coaches and staffs. The workouts have been great. It’s been a good process,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m just excited.”