By Mike Grenier
When Michael Carter-Williams was a freshman basketball player at Hamilton-Wenham Regional two years ago, his skill set was so obvious that one of the favorite pastimes for fans was to project where he would end up playing college ball.
Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-5 guard who has since transferred to St. Andrew's School in Barrington, R.I., gave basketball recruiters and fans everywhere his answer over the weekend when he verbally committed to Syracuse University.
"I didn't think I would like any school better than Syracuse," said Carter-Williams, 18, who is ranked No. 81 in the nation by Scout.com with two years of high school still remaining.
"I wanted to have the decision off my shoulders," he added. "It wouldn't be fair to my teammates (at St. Andrew's) to be thinking about colleges this season. I want to focus on my academics and basketball — now I'll be able to do that."
Carter-Williams, a combination guard whose college future may be at the point, was a prime recruit for several big-time programs. He ended up choosing Syracuse over Providence, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Miami. Boston College was also in the running, but Syracuse had everything he wanted.
"One of the (academic majors) they have is communications. That's something I really wanted," said Carter-Williams. "I also love the facilities and their coaches. They have a Hall of Fame coach (in Jim Boeheim). He is unbelievable, and (assistant) Mike Hopkins has been recruiting me from the beginning."
Carter-Williams had an eye-opening sophomore year at St. Andrew's, averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds for a team that plays a 30-game schedule and gets wide exposure.
Carter-Williams was a skinny young player at Hamilton-Wenham and still needs to fill out, but that's part of what made him so appealing to so many colleges. He is a classically 'long' player with a quick release who can shoot over most of the players who'll be guarding him.
"This is tremendous for Michael," said St. Andrew's coach Mike Hart. "He's making a wise choice because it's not only a basketball decision, but an academic decision. A lot of kids lose that perspective when they're being recruited, but Mike has indicated that he would like to be a sportscaster or get involved with communications.
"One of the great things about him is that he's never been in awe of the recruiting process. His background has helped a lot. His mother (Ipswich High girls basketball coach Mandy Zegarowski) and stepfather (Zach Zegarowski, who coached at Charlestown High under Jack O'Brien and who was an assistant at Hamilton-Wenham two years ago) have been around the game, and Michael has always been comfortable around college coaches. He values the education part of the recruiting process."
Hart will use Carter-Williams at shooting guard this season because he has a 5-foot-8 player, Myles Brilhante, who fits the bill at the point position, but Carter-Williams' long term future appears to be at the point.
"Mike can continue to learn the point position without having the pressure of doing it all the time this season," said Hart. "He's only going to get better because he's a gym rat and a student of the game.
"He's grown a couple of inches in a year and I think that at Syracuse we could be looking at a 6-6 point guard. Michael kind of reminds me of Shaun Livingston, who was the fourth pick in the (2004) draft (who ended up with the L.A. Clippers). He plays like him. We'll see, but I'm excited."
Players tend to be under the microscope at Syracuse, which is not a pro sports town. But Carter-Williams likes that kind of challenge.
"From what I understand, there's not a lot to do in Syracuse, so everyone goes and watches the basketball games," said Carter-Williams. "I'll have to earn my spot, but I'm excited about it. Syracuse is in the Big East, and I think the Big East and the ACC are the two best conferences in the country. It's the best competition you can get."
St. Andrew's has been a boon to his career, but Carter-Williams said he thoroughly enjoyed his one season at Hamilton-Wenham. It was a positive part of his growing process.
"I definitely needed that year at Hamilton-Wenham," he said. "It was a great experience for me. It made me work hard (towards the future)."
Current H-W head coach Doug Hoak, who was an assistant when Carter-Williams played for the Generals, hated to lose a player of Carter-Williams' caliber, but he understood what was behind it. Yesterday, he was thrilled to hear about Carter-Williams decision to attend Syracuse.
"First of all, he's a great kid," said Hoak. "When he was with us, he was maybe 6-1, but he was so long with those arms that he played much taller. You could see that he had a tremendous upside.
"I just talked to Zach and I'm so happy for the whole family. A kid from around here, it's awesome that he's going to Syracuse."