NORMAN — Texas-El Paso forward Derrick Caracter will play his first game in the Ford Center in downtown Oklahoma City tonight. It might not be his last.
"There’s a reason why, at one point, he was the No. 1 player in the high school class with Greg Oden and Kevin Durant,” said UTEP coach Tony Barbee. "He’s that talented.” Caracter entered high school in New Jersey as the best player in his class. By his senior year, he had slipped but was still a consensus top-25 recruit. His road to UTEP began with a contentious recruiting battle won by Louisville coach Rick Pitino and weaved through numerous squabbles with the legendary coach. By the end of his two-year career with the Cardinals, Caracter had been suspended for 17 games. "You think about us when we were 17, 18 years old, some of the bad decisions we made. Well, our’s just weren’t covered by every national news media outlet,” Barbee said. "He’s learned. He understands the wounds that were inflicted on him were self-inflicted. Nobody else’s fault.” He averaged just over eight points and four rebounds per game and in just over 15 minutes of playing time, but he elected to throw his limber 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame into the NBA Draft. He eventually withdrew in hopes of continuing his college career elsewhere. Barbee, the lead recruiter for Caracter as associate head coach under John Calipari at Memphis, provided his new home. "His high school coach called me and asked if I’d be interested,” Barbee said. "I said, ‘Absolutely.’” Before Caracter could begin his fresh start, he sat out the mandated season plus the first five games of this season to regain academic eligibility. The transition wasn’t painless. "Take a year off of anything, and you’ll be a little rusty,” Barbee said. The previously undefeated Miners lost to New Mexico State in Caracter’s underwhelming debut, 12 days after beating the same team by 21 on its home floor.