ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Dale Carton stands by the bleachers in the Rock Island Fieldhouse, having just watched his son, five-star point guard D.J. Carton, put on a show at the Justin Sharp Memorial shootout.
He’s laughing, thinking back to last week’s NBA Draft. Dale says his family doesn’t usually watch the draft together.
This year, though, they did.
Dale remembers his wife, Jennifer, asking D.J. a question during the first round:
What are you going to say to me when you get picked?
It was a joke. But with Carton’s incredible spring on the recruiting circuit and his standout performance among the country’s best at the Under-18 National Team Trials earlier this month, it’s not unrealistic to wonder if Bettendorf’s top-25 guard is a future pro.
Of the 247Sports Composite’s top 30 recruits in the recently graduated 2014 class, 24 are currently part of an NBA or G-League team.
“That’s been my goal ever since I was a little kid. And now, I feel like it is starting to get more real,” Carton said. “I feel like it’s motivated me to be the player I am today. If I keep working and keep being myself on and off the court, then I feel like it’s definitely a possibility.”
Thinking about a pro future is now part of life for Carton.
That may seem crazy, but lots of things that may have seemed crazy two years ago — being considered one of the nation’s top recruits, getting recruited by Hall-of-Fame college basketball coaches — are normal now.
Calls from Kansas head coach Bill Self are normal for Carton. Texting with NBA point guard Rajon Rondo, his coach at the NBPA Top 100 Camp, is normal. Receiving interest from Duke and North Carolina? Normal and normal.
But so is missing his 10-year-old brother, Rylen, when Carton is gone at camps and tournaments. So is struggling to fall asleep as pros and cons of each school swirl around his head.
Through it all, Carton has learned the secret of the seemingly glamorous life of a five-star prospect: It isn’t always so glamorous.
“It’s not easy,” Carton said. “You’ve got a lot on your mind. You’ve got a lot of people wanting you to go places. And now that I’ve kind of gained a lot of popularity from this, there’s a lot of people who look up to you and have high expectations for you. You don’t want to let people down. You want to perform at their expectations that they set for you, so it’s a lot of expectations on you.
“But I feel like it’s definitely made me mature throughout this whole process and really helped me as a man.”
On his way to the Justin Sharp Memorial Shootout, for instance, Dale was talking on the phone with Indiana associate head coach Tom Ostrom. And just about every morning, Ohio State and Michigan send him texts with D.J. photo-shopped to wear their jersey or stand in front of a school banner.
“It’s just busy,” Dale said, smiling. “It’s so busy.”
It’s even busier for Dale’s son. Most days of D.J.’s offseason have looked like this:
- Wake up at 6:30 a.m. and practice with his high school team, if he’s not at a camp or tournament.
- Lift weights until 10 a.m.
- Come home to hang out with Rylen, often taking him to the batting cages. “He has a dream, the same as mine,” Carton says. “I want to help him get there.”
- Go shoot baskets at his neighbor’s indoor court in the afternoon/evening.
- Come home and text or call coaches for a few hours.
- Play video games with Rylen and relax before going to bed.
“To be honest, there’s a lot of days where his recruitment is a full-time job,” Bettendorf head coach Curtis Clark said, laughing.
That job’s rigor ratchets up routinely, as Carton’s stock has remained on a continuous upward trajectory the last two years.
His latest standout performance came at the prestigious NBPA Top 100 Camp, where 247Sports scouting director Jerry Meyer said he was the best point guard prospect in attendance. Up next are July’s evaluation periods. Then, in the second week of August, Carton will likely play at Chris Paul’s Rising Stars Camp in North Carolina.
The 247Sports Composite currently ranks Carton the No. 25 prospect in 2019. After everything shakes out this summer, he could crack the top 20.
Dale Carton said it’s been “amazing” to watch his son blossom so quickly.
“A lot of it is just confidence on his part,” he said. “He was always very athletic, and then he got the dribbling part, and then the IQ came where he could pass and he saw the court very well. Now, he’s even getting physically stronger and now playing against the other guys thinking, ‘I can beat these guys. I went to USA camp and I was one of the best ones there.’
“He’s just so much more mature on the court. He sees things and it slows down. He says, ‘I can slow the game down. They don’t speed me up like they used to.'”
He told the Register he still wants to visit all six schools on the list he released in May — Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, Iowa, Xavier and Marquette. But he also said he might want to visit the new schools interested in him if that interest develops.
In other words: There’s still a ways to go before Carton picks a school, which he says he’ll likely do in the fall.
At every step of his recruitment, Carton’s life — and his family’s life — has changed.
With Duke and North Carolina expected to watch Carton in July, more change could be coming.
D.J. Carton’s wild ride is only beginning.