- Green Street - http://greenstreet.weei.com -

A mom’s NBA draft diary: Michael-Carter Williams’ hard work pays off at NBA combine

Hamilton resident Mandy Carter-Zegarowski, the mother of Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams and the girls basketball coach at Ipswich High School, is chronicling the days leading up to the June 28 NBA draft through blog entries for WEEI.com. Carter-Williams, who prepped at Hamilton-Wenham High School and Rhode Island’€™s St. Andrews School before spending two seasons at Syracuse, is projected to be a lottery pick.

We have a few weeks to catch up on in this blog, so the first few may be long. It has gone by so fast and been pretty incredible so far. As much as I am going to miss Syracuse. we are moving forward full steam ahead.

Michael has gotten some great press recently, and although it is hard to know what to believe, we are happy about where he is positioned for the draft so far. As of right now, we are planning for the green room, which means he is slotted to be a top-14 pick. We could find out he slips out of the top 14, and that would be fine.

Michael getting on a team that presents him with an opportunity to prove himself for a second contract is most important. If, for instance, he goes No. 2 he would make more money the first three years, but if he doesn’t play, he risks not getting another contract after his third year and his career in the NBA could be over.

Getting picked in the first round (top 30) is an amazing accomplishment and the dream! We watch the draft every year and this year we are going to be a part of it. His agent, Jeff Schwartz, is working hard to advocate and position him in the right situation. But how Michael performs until June 27th will dictate where he goes in the first round. That’s why for us, picking the right agent for Michael was so important. He has already played a large role by organizing the workouts and getting Michael in front of the right people. There is not a ton of time to prepare for the NBA workouts, and Michael got started a little late.

Michael chose to stay at Syracuse and finish school. A lot of draft prospects leave school to train as soon as their NCAA [1] tournament is over. When this happens, the team can suffer academically if the player does not finish the semester. It sounds strange that a player would choose to leave early and not finish school, but it is common. The rational is that after the tournament, college basketball [2] coaches spend a lot of their time recruiting so they are not around to train the players and prepare them for the NBA draft workouts.

There are also NCAA [3] rules about how much time a coach can spend with a player out of season. There is also the fact that some players value leaving school more than their education. Michael carried five classes and he finished with the highest GPA on the team. It was not easy considering the amount of time his team spent on the road second semester. Syracuse did an amazing job staying on him to keep up with his work when he was on the road. The academic advisor and tutors worked hard to make sure Michael made up all his work. The tough part for Michael was missing class. It is hard to miss the lectures and the actual teaching in the classroom and still do well.  It was also up to Michael to take advantage of the tutoring and writing workshops. It was his responsibility to communicate with his teachers. His last three weeks at school were exhausting for him with him attending classes and finishing the makeup work.

Zach [Zegarowski, Michael’€™s stepfather and a former high school coach] ended up going to Syracuse to work him out his last two weeks there, and that helped him stay in shape and basketball-ready. I spoke to the academic advisor a couple of times a week about Michael’s progress.

Michael packed up his room after finals and drove to Glen Cove, N.Y., on May 3rd. Zach went with him and they have been there since. We have gone there to visit and they have come home a few times. They have a two-bedroom furnished apartment. Michael trains about 15 minutes from his apartment at someone’€™s house. (Believe it or not. I have not seen the actual house because it is behind the gym on the property and the trees block the view, but I imagine it is nice from what the gym looks like.)

The owner is a huge University of Maryland [4] basketball fan, and a statue of the school’€™s mascot — which is an anthropomorphic turtle named “Testudo” — is the first thing you see when you pull into the gravel driveway. The gym looks like a new Cape-style house painted white with black shutters. The landscapers are there every day, and it looks like it! When I walked in the front door I was pleasantly surprised by a large living room, with carpet, a pool table, TV, a couch, a few chairs and a large glass window with a few folding chairs in front of it. The folding chairs provide a place to sit and look down onto the first floor, which is a full-size, brand new court. To the right is a staircase that leads to the court, two bathrooms, a locker room with shower, a steam room, a full kitchen and a brick patio. On the other side of the stairs to the right of the front door is a small workout gym, which also has a window so while you are on the treadmill you can watch the players playing basketball. My kids saw it and want it at our new house.

Jay, Michael’s trainer, reminds me a lot of Zach. He was hired by Michael’s agent. Jay has a daughter the same age as Masey [Michael’€™s stepsister], who also plays basketball. He is about 6 feet, fit and is very invested in Michael succeeding. Jeff’s office represents four other players in the draft and they all work out with Jay. They don’t all work out at once. Michael and C.J. McCollum — who is a combo guard from Lehigh — usually work out together. Sometimes Mike Muscala — who is a forward from Bucknell — works out with Michael. The five players all live in the apartment complex and get along really well.

Michael’s day starts out with Zach making breakfast, and then they head to the gym. He typically has his first workout around 9 or 10. After the first basketball workout Zach and Michael head to his strength and conditioning trainer at a gym about 10 minutes away. They grab a salad at noon, eat and then head to a huge gym, the next town over. Dean is his trainer, and that strength and conditioning workout usually is about an hour. After that workout Michael typically has about 45 minutes to relax and eat again. Around 2 p.m. he heads back to Jay for a second basketball workout from 2-3:30.

About three times a week after his second basketball workout Michael comes up to the “living room” and gets a deep tissue massage by Gail. Gail is no joke!! She is a short black woman with a boisterous voice who makes you smile every time you talk to her. She wears gym shorts, a T-shirt and no shoes or socks. She has short black curly hair and her soft brown skin can fool you into thinking a relaxing massage is coming your way. She lays a towel on the living room carpet next to the pool table and waits for the boys to finish their workout. Most of the time they shower first, and when they don’t, I am not sure how she can tolerate the smell.  The minute she got started on Michael I think the landscapers heard him scream over their loud lawnmowers. She takes her feet and presses into his thighs with her toes. She takes her elbow and uses her full body weight on his back to get out the knots. I have had a lot of massages and I love them, but I have never seen anything like this. She does a great job, though, because he can touch his toes with ease now. It has helped a great deal with his flexibility. Michael has really bought into what she does, and her personality helps. With each yelp she laughs and calls the boys babies!

At his basketball workouts Michael does a ton of shooting, ball-handling and speed drills. Jay knows what the NBA workouts are like and he prepares the players for them. He has a nice disposition and Michael responds well to him. Zach living there keeps Michael company and he can give Michael feedback after a workout. The workouts are not robotic. In that I mean Michael expects a lot from himself and like in anything he has good workouts and bad workouts. A good workout is defined by high energy, his shot falling and the ability to explode attacking the basket. A bad workout usually means he felt sluggish, his shot was off and his legs were not explosive.

One of our goals with Michael is to help him understand his body and will his way into a good workout. Everyone goes through it, but at this stage of his career it is now his job and he can’t just accept not getting the most out of workouts or go through the motions. Michael recognizes when he is struggling, which is the first step. Most days if his first workout is disappointing to him, his second one is great. Zach’s goal is to help Michael adjust during the workouts as opposed to after when he is struggling. Zach is very good at talking to Michael after the workout and getting Michael to realize he has the ability to dictate how his workout goes. He empowers Michael to recognize the pace and focus of the workout and make adjustments. You don’t have to struggle shooting the entire workout. You can make the adjustments during, but you have to be aware and realize what needs to change. Michael has great mechanics shooting, he needs to consistently lift his shot and make sure it comes off his fingertips. Those are two things that he now pays more attention to so he can be more consistent.

Zach has the patience to wait until after the workout. When I was there one day I watched Michael miss five shots in a row. I saw him keep the same pace cutting during the drill and not make any adjustments, which made my insides start to burn. I pounded on the window and screamed, “Get your legs underneath you and lift your friggin’€™ shot.” Michael looked at me like I was nuts and Zach asked me if I was all right. I asked him how the hell he sits up here and does not feel tempted to go down and coach him. He said, “Michael is fine, Jay gets him going, just watch.” He was right, but for me its hard not saying anything, and I’m not going to promise that I wont say anything the next time, either!

The first goal was to get Michael ready for the NBA draft combine in Chicago on May 16th to the 20th. The NBA sent an itinerary to Michael’s agent, and he was scheduled from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. all four days there. He had very little downtime. He had to go alone, and that made me nervous. I knew he would be fine traveling, but the mental aspect of this process is tough. It is great to have someone like Zach around to pump him up, and Michael is used to having the support of a coach or family member. My head started spinning right away when his agent told me he had to go alone. I immediately wanted to know who his roommate was because if it was someone that stayed up all night, that would not go over well. I could see Jeff trying not to laugh when I expressed my concerns over sleeping arrangements — he is 21, after all, and this is not summer camp!! I get that, but my mind immediately went there. Jeff did understand me being anxious about Michael having support there. A lot weighs on everything Michael does right now on and off the court. He said Zach and I could go, but no one is allowed at the combine gym and it would not look great to the GMs if his mother was there. I was a little hurt … lol. But I moved on and said FINE, I won’t go if it is going to hurt Michael, but sooner or later the GMs need to know that I am not the normal mom, I know basketball. Jeff smiled with great patience and promised he would communicate that eventually.

Michael was pleasantly surprised to walk in his hotel room and see James Southerland there. James was his teammate at Syracuse. His other teammate Brandon [Triche] was not invited, which we thought was odd. He is good enough to be there, but it shows you how you can’t take anything for granted. Only 60 players get invited to the combine, and there are a lot more that declared for the draft.

At the combine Michael had 12 interviews with GMs who knew everything down to the kind of toothpaste he uses — just kidding, but they did know way too much. Most NBA teams hired private investigators to do full background checks. Michael left his first interview in shock and called me right away. The first team was not very nice. Their approach was to attack and they did not let up. They questioned everything from his body language on the court to his friends who they referred to by their first names. They knew the background of his friends. They pretended they did not know his parents coached. I say pretend, because if they knew what colleges his friends went to I am pretty sure they knew we coached. They wanted to see how Michael responded to their line of questioning. Although Michael felt attacked, he did very well with his answers. Other teams were very nice in the interviews and it felt more conversational to Michael.

The rational to the aggressive type interviews is that they want to see how Michael will respond to the media. The other reality is that it is not a normal job. The NBA teams have a lot of control of your life. At least the first few years before you get your second contract they do. It is a huge investment for them and they want to know who you are. I can’t blame them. The players are young when they come into the league. Expecting them to live on their own, pay their own bills and compete against grown men whose playing time feeds their wife and kids is a big expectation. All the teams expressed that they like their rookies to have a family member come with them and live with them. The players that have moved to their new city alone or with a group of friends have struggled.

The NBA teams only get to interview a certain amount of players and they have to request you. Michael had a lot of requests, and his agent said the feedback on Michael was great. He interviewed well, he placed high in the competitions and carried himself like a professional. The NBA general managers watched how the players acted in the lobby, they paid attention to how the players dressed and who they hung around with. Eye contact, firm handshakes, clarity in speech all come into play when they are deciding who to pick in the draft.

Michael has been in the conversation as a lottery pick for a while, which is why he left school to enter the draft. If he was not going to be a top-20 pick, he would have stayed in school. Most of the players who are projected lottery picks (top 14) did not participate in the basketball portion of the combine. I am not sure when this started, but the lottery players sit out so they do not hurt their current position. They are already in a good position in the top 14 and they don’t want to play themselves out of it. So Michael did not do any of the basketball drills. He did compete in the competitions, where his athleticism would be measured. Jeff said he thought NBA teams were going to be pleasantly surprised by Michael’s athleticism, and they were. Michael did great and we were thrilled. It was the first goal in this draft process and Michael did very well. His vertical leap was 41 inches and he had a fast time for his sprint and agility drill, which is awesome for his height. He was faster than a lot of the smaller guards, and that was not expected.

The combine was a success for Michael. I got to watch what they showed of him participating on TV, which was really neat.  After the combine the media seemed to have less concerns and doubts about his ability to play in the NBA and wrote a lot more about his upside. On Sunday night Michael flew back to New York with Zach waiting, and Monday morning his workouts started up again. Next up, Chad Ford, who covers the NBA and NBA draft for ESPN, flew in on Friday, May 24th, to watch Michael work out. Chad was disappointed that Michael did not play basketball at the combine and he wanted to see Michael work out, so Jeff invited him. Stay tuned for details on how that went and Michael’€™s plans for his NBA workouts, which start [Wednesday] in Phoenix!