Irish international basketballer John Carroll may be only 25, but he’s packed a lot into his young career. He’s mixed with global sports superstars when joining the IMG Academy in Florida as a teenager in 2011, he’s played college basketball for hugely respected outfit Hartford and his pro career has seen him play in the Czech Republic and Spain.
His experience with the IMG Academy in Florida was certainly eye-opening, as he explained to Bench Talk, Basketball Ireland’s interview series. It’s a place which has churned out top sporting talent such as tennis players, Maria Sharapova, Serena and Venus Williams, soccer players like former Manchester United and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, former 400m World Champion LaShawn Merritt, a host of NFL and NBA players, including current Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, a 4-time NBA All-Star.
“There would always be famous people coming through, like Dwanye Wade came in. We had the Gatorade Sports Lab connected to our gym and a lot of people did training there. I had lifted next to Tim Tebow (NFL quarterback) before. I was friends with the tennis players, they used to play all these famous tennis players. So it was bit surreal in that sense and then we had really high prospects there, especially for basketball at that time, and tennis. It definitely did feel like an important place and they were sending people to all these places, it was definitely a ‘factory-feel’”
Next stop for Carroll was the University of Hartford, where his game had to step up. In his senior year Hartford made the daunting trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on Duke. Carroll had to pit his wits against future NBA players Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans) and RJ Barrett (New York Knicks). Carroll was particularly impressed with Williamson.
“He stood out because he was actually extremely fast. Laterally he would hop step, it was crazy. You would not feel his strength because you wouldn’t really be on him. He would get away from you so fast and then I played with RJ (Barrett) in LA, so I knew what he was about and how athletic he was. So I wasn’t surprised, but it was hard to play against them. I think RJ had 28 and 15 that night, so he was the star that night”
Since graduation Carroll has struggled with injuries, a stint in the Czech Republic ended after three games. His time in Spain, playing in the highly-regarded Leb Gold, was cruelly cut short by a knee injury which required surgery.
“That was really frustrating, because the level was really good. I like the team a lot, I liked the players and they could have really used me. They played well in the three games I was there, but I literally couldn’t help, because my knee was done basically. I needed surgery badly. So even though coach loved me because I was so physical on defence or whatever, but I just couldn’t give them anything really. It was a great situation, I would have loved to stay, but I need to take care of my knee here, because it is not…this is not helping me. But LEB Gold is just unreal, on my third game which I think was my last game and we played the best team, they just got a centre in called Xavi Rey and he came from Milan's Euroleague team, so that is the level of play. It is probably the highest level of play I’ve played in.”
The Howth native is on the hunt for a new club, but says finding one for the upcoming season will be harder due to coronavirus.
“I think it is important for me next year to put some stats on the board and if I was to go to LEB Gold and average 8-4 or whatever, that in a way would be good stats. I definitely need to go somewhere and I need to play. It sounds so obvious, but it is like I need to put a season under my belt playing well now that I didn’t have that last year. My criteria won’t change that much, I mean coronavirus is going to change things financially for sure and it is going to change timetables. I was talking to Danny Nelson about that yesterday and he says things are going to be pushed back considerably. There are a lot of licences that are not even out yet. So there is going to need to be more patience. Last year I was really impatient, I am going to have to adjust my mentality and see what is out there.”
Covid-19 also meant that the European Championship for Small Countries, due to be held in Limerick this summer, was pushed back to 2021 and Carroll says he’s keen to be involved when the tournament comes round in June next year.
“I definitely wanted to play, I have a big calendar over there and I had every training session down and I think we were meant to be in the thick of it right now, two or three days in. So yes, I was all about it and ready to go. But it could be a blessing in disguise for us, we could get things more together. I wasn’t sure who was playing, this could give everyone a year to get older and better. I would definitely be interested in playing for sure.”
Episode 5 of Bench Talk featuring Lindsay Peat takes place on Wednesday July 8th at 8pm on Basketball Ireland’s social channels.