Three and a half years ago, Louisville coach Rick Pitino sent Derrick Caracter home to Fanwood, N.J., during the Christmas break.
The troubled Caracter was serving one of several suspensions related to conditioning, academic problems and disobedience that dotted his career at Louisville.
Figuring it was time to send him a message, Caracter's mother and grandmother left a Dunkin' Donuts employment application where he couldn't miss it.
"I was just trying to figure out how I was going to get things together over there at the time and they had an application waiting for me on my bed," Caracter, 22, recalled during a recent phone interview. "Dunkin' Donuts was down the street from my house.
"At first, I just kind of laughed but then I knew where they were coming from. The outside looking in, things weren't looking good, and I knew I needed to get together."
Several years removed from that incident, the 6-foot-9 Caracter is hoping for a much bigger payday than Dunkin' Donuts could ever offer when the NBA Draft comes around June 24.
Projected as a late-second round pick, Caracter has workouts scheduled this week with the Washington Wizards, Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. He is set to work out for the Charlotte Bobcats next week. His agent is Happy Walters, the inspiration for the Adam Sandler film "Happy Gilmore." Sandler was the best man at Walters' wedding.
After two troubled seasons at Louisville, Caracter transferred to UTEP, where, after sitting out a season, he averaged 14.1 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 56.5 percent from the field. He helped Tony Barbee's team win the Conference USA regular-season title and gain a bid to the NCAA tournament, where he played at 315 pounds when the Miners lost to eventual national runner-up Butler in the first round.
Caracter declared for the NBA Draft in April and has spent the past two months working out at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he has dropped nearly 40 pounds and is down to 278. His body fat has fallen to 12.8 percent from 23 percent. He played well at a predraft camp in Chicago and also at a recent NBA workout in Minneapolis.
"Derrick has tremendously improved his balance, stability, and footwork during his seven weeks here," Dan Barto, the IMG post-graduate program coordinator, said in an e-mail. "His pure power and strength mixed with better timing and finishing is going to make him a great offensive asset of the next level. His midrange consistency and pinch post actions continue to improve, and I see him being DeJuan Blair-like with his summer league statistics."
Everyone in the basketball world knows the name Derrick Caracter. He was the first eighth-grader invited to the Nike All-American Camp and was ranked No. 1 in the nation going into his freshman year.
"In 10th grade, I started getting spoiled a bit," he said during an interview last fall. "Maybe 10th to 11th grade, that was the only time I was arrogant and a little full of myself. That's also the time I put on 15-20 pounds. Sophomore year I was probably like 260. Junior year I was 285. I went to the camps. I didn't do all my workouts. I didn't put any extra work in."
He bounced around to three different high schools, including two stops at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, one at Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick and one at Notre Dame Prep.
"At that time I wasn't really making decisions for myself," he said. "My mother, my uncle, I just did whatever they told me and they felt was the best decision for me at the time. I think that's maybe made me the person I am today. All the experiences from each school and each coach made me understand people. I got to experience a lot of different people and meet a lot of different people."
Even as he averaged 15.4 points and 7.1 rebounds while helping Notre Dame Prep to a 27-3 record and the No. 1 national ranking his senior year, Caracter missed several games because of various disciplinary issues.
"Since he was in ninth grade he was put on a pedestal and all these people around him are telling him how great he is," former Notre Dame Prep coach Bill Barton said. "I've always thought that it's immaturity. I think he just didn't want to work. He was his own worst enemy. I never found him to be a malicious kid. I never found him to be someone who wanted to hurt others. The only one he ever hurt was himself."
Caracter's weight and immaturity issues followed him to Louisville, where he continually clashed with Pitino even as he averaged 8.3 points and 4.5 rebounds during the 2007-08 season.
Caracter was declared academically ineligible at Louisville in the spring of 2008, causing Pitino to announce that his time at the school was over.
"He just has too many issues to overcome, academically and otherwise, to be a Louisville Cardinal," Pitino told the Louisville Courier Journal. "The best thing for him would be to go to a different place."
The two sides went back and forth, with Pitino ultimately agreeing to let Caracter take a year off from the team to work and get his grades in order before returning for the 2009-10 season.
Instead, he landed at UTEP, where, by all accounts, he was trouble-free.
Still, NBA experts are wary of what the future holds.
"Caracter is an obvious talent who has improved not only in his conditioning, work ethic on and off the floor, but in the classroom," said Ryan Blake, assistant director of NBA scouting. "However, what concerns teams the most is he has only proven some of the goods for a year and he has had many more concerns in
"It's a deep draft, so his draft position would be anywhere from the second round to undrafted. How good a player he can be? It depends on him, his heart and ability to get into Olympic condition."
If Caracter does hear his name called during the draft, he will have come a long way from the day he discovered that Dunkin' Donuts application on his bed.
"It will make me feel great," he said. "It will be a dream come true. All the hard work and the different obstacles and adversity that I've been through in the last few years will definitely be worth it."