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.
When I started to write this, there were 10 days until the draft. Between my twins’ last week of school and all the eighth-grade events that go with it and dealing with our insurance company for the fire, my week got a little crazy!
Michael went from Sacramento to Dallas. He arrived in Dallas on the 12th. Jeff [Schwartz], his agent, sends him a full itinerary for each trip via email. Michael just has to follow the instructions and be on time. I had a feeling Michael was going to like Dallas, and he did. He liked everything about it. The people, the coach, the GM, the facility and his stay. It felt good. He played well. He was very happy with his workout and enjoyed dinner after with the coach and GM. I think Dallas would be a great fit. The Mavericks need a point guard, it is a terrific marketing venue and they have won there. Joining a franchise that has won presents different opportunities than a team that is building.
It is tough to spend your first years on a team that has lost a lot. The fans are edgy waiting for wins and the team attitude can be overcome with frustration. Losing over 50 percent of your games when you play 82 games makes for a long season.
The Orlando Magic  lost 62 games this year. It has to be very hard for a rookie to manage proving himself to a team, moving to a new city and learning to live as a young adult on your own. Then add losing a lot of games and the stress that comes with that, and life in the NBA can quickly become overwhelming. Many players are asked if they would rather go later in the draft to a team with a winning record or go high in the lottery to a team that has lost a lot. If you go high in the lottery, you make a lot more money your first two to three years and you play on a team that has lost a lot of games and needs to win. Playing on a losing team, unless you are the type of player who really does not care about winning, takes the fun out of your job.
I spoke to a player who played on a team that was in the lottery last year and is in the lottery again this year. For those of you who don’t know, that means that this team’s record finished in the bottom 14 of all NBA teams. That is a lot of losing in two years. He was a rookie last year. I asked him if he was enjoying himself. Without hesitation he said he would prefer to be back in college and the only thing he enjoys are Thursdays. Thursdays are payday. Now, to be fair, I asked him at the end of the season. After that conversation, reality hit that the NBA is a job whether you are winning or losing. You can’t pick the team that you go to, but we can hope that Michael lands on a team that is a good fit.
What makes a good fit? I really can’t completely answer that. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out where he should go. Some teams have a new coach, new GM and even new owners. I think it may be tough for a rookie to walk into a new system, but it could also turn out great if everyone meshes right away. Michael is great in the open court, so it would be nice if he was with a team that likes to run. Coaches all have a style of play, and a coach that likes to push the ball would be good for Michael.
Since both [stepfather] Zach [Zegarowski] and I coach, Michael was exposed to the relationships we were able to develop with our players on and off the court. Michael values a relationship between him and the coaches. I am hoping he is on a team where he is mentored. Where he ends up can dictate how long he is in the league just as much as how he plays will. He needs to be given a chance sometime in his first three years. I feel confident that Michael will make the most out of any opportunity he is given with any team. After seeing him get through the adversity of not playing his freshman year, I know he can play in any system with any type of coach or players.
Jeff spoke to Dallas and they said they really like Michael, and if he is still around for the 13th pick it could be an option. After traveling around the country it would be nice to hear something more definitive. Michael flying to a new city, trying out under pressure and eating meals with people you have never met has been a fast-paced transition into adulthood. It is an unbelievable opportunity, a dream he is living. But, it is hard, really hard. Imagine being 21 and job interviewing all over the country by yourself? Not many college students experience that. Believe me, I get it, not many 21-year-olds have an opportunity to make that much money, either, but that does not take away the high-pressure, intense demand for performance.
As much as it is his dream, playing basketball with some of these players has been a reality for a few years. Michael feels like he belongs. He feels like he is a top-14 draft pick. I am proud of him for believing in himself. If he doubted he was a top-14 pick, he would have stayed at Syracuse. He may not end up top 14, but he needs to believe and play like he is. He can only control how he plays and his mental approach to this process.
A general manager is going to choose his draft pick using all different variables. Michael is going to make every effort to win wherever he is chosen. Michael is a winner. He finds a way to win regardless of who he is playing with. He has always been the heartbeat of whatever team he has played on. He was a quarterback, a catcher and a point guard growing up. When Syracuse lost, Michael did not play well. In some wins, he struggled in some areas of the game but he found a way to win by making his teammates better, hustling on defense and rebounding. He plays from basket to basket, not foul line to foul line. He averaged five rebounds a game. That is a lot for a point guard. That is heart, and I will take a player with heart over a player who is concerned about building up their stat line any day.
Some analysts say he is a risk-taker and that makes them a little nervous, but they like Michael’s upside, his potential. Risk-taking is coachable. Perhaps he did take too many risks at Syracuse and suffered some turnovers because of it. I feel it is up to a coach to control that, and Michael is very coachable, so that is an easy fix.
His shooting has to improve. Michael is a workout player, he values working out and gym time, so that will improve. I am realistic and honest with Michael. He calls me his biggest critic. So when I talk to him about his game he knows that I know basketball and it is not your everyday mother-son conversation. The areas where Michael needs to improve are all things that a player can improve, and that is a huge plus. You can’t improve height, length or IQ. Some areas in basketball are gray areas, like athleticism and attitude. Michael showed at the combine that he is very athletic and his attitude is positive. He is competitive but he has always been a great teammate, and I have never heard otherwise.
After Dallas, he few to New Orleans. During his high school summers he played with and against Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis , who both play for New Orleans. Trey Burke was there to work out, although they did not work out together. Trey again said his agent advised him not to work out with Michael. Michael felt the workout went well and said his dinner with the New Orleans staff went well. Jeff said that New Orleans likes him, but that doesn’t mean they will pick him. New Orleans has the sixth pick. They are called the Pelicans now, and I am not sure I can get beyond that name. … They used to be the Hornets.
Friday night Michael flew into JFK airport. Zach was at the apartment waiting for him. Saturday he had the day off. He went to a Nike event in Brooklyn for a new Nike store. Spike Lee, Bernard King  and Deron Williams (Nets) were there. Later in the day he went to Dyckman Park opening night. Dyckman Park is one of if not the most famous men’s summer league in the country. Michael said it was a crazy! Which to me meant a lot of fun. NBA players are known to come back and play at the park. It was nice for Michael to take a break from the grind and watch some good street ball.
On Sunday the Oklahoma City Thunder  general manager came to town to watch Michael work out in Glen Cove [N.Y.], and then the GM took Michael to lunch. Oklahoma City has the 12th pick. Their roster is loaded with talent. They were not a lottery team. They made a trade last year with Toronto and got Toronto’s first draft pick this year. The Thunder had a successful year at 60-22. They had the best record in the West. At the Chicago combine they made it clear to Michael that whoever they picked would go to the D-League. They are a team that uses their D-League a lot. The D-League is the development league. It is not a bad thing. A lot of players, not just rookies, play in the D-League to get playing time if they are not getting minutes on the team. Michael could play in the D-League, it is just not what you aim for when entering the draft.
Michael said the lunch was nice, but they asked about the D-League again. He said he told the GM that if he is asked to play in the D-League he will and will make the best of it. Again, the Thunder told Jeff they like him, but they are not sure yet what they are going to do with their pick.
Utah, Detroit, Philadelphia and Orlando next.