Away from the spotlight, the cheering fans, and the game he has grown to depend upon, DeAndre’ Carroll’s breakthrough is confirmed in the form of an indiscreet phone call from a familiar voice.
“How’d you do tonight?” his younger brother, DeMarre Carroll, asks.
“I did OK,” the elder brother responds.
It is the same conversation the two share every night because DeMarre Carroll, a sophomore basketball player at Missouri, is unable to see his big brother play for Columbia College.
The exchange is ordinary, but earlier in the evening, something extraordinary happens in Southwell Complex.
DeAndre’ Carroll’s new beginning finally takes flight.
In his sixth game as a Cougar, Carroll, 22, finally lets loose, scoring 21 points by playing the carefree, run-and-gun style of basketball he grew up with in the parks of Birmingham, Ala.
But despite his breakout performance, the Cougars still lose by six.
Moments after the defeat, Carroll solemnly speaks on the phone with his younger brother. As he talks, there is an unusual serenity to his voice, as if all the tribulations he has endured in his past have numbed him from feeling further pain.
“There was a lot of things bothering me,” Carroll says. “I just put everything out of my mind and started playing basketball.”
From the age of six, tragedy, hardships, and separation have forced Carroll to prematurely shed his youthful innocence.
Now he’s starting over in Columbia, a place where family and basketball have come together to help rectify Carroll’s troubled past.
Running around the house and causing trouble as a little boy, Carroll was once a firecracker constantly on the edge of exploding.
Under the roof of Ed Carroll, it was the duty of DeLonte Carroll, the oldest of his three sons, to keep tabs on the younger brothers.
But before DeLonte Carroll’s 10th birthday, he became extremely sick. He lost all of his energy and his head wouldn’t stop aching.
Seeing that their oldest son’s condition wasn’t improving, his parents took him to a doctor.
After he underwent several tests, the family learned he had a brain tumor. A tumor that could not be treated.
Over the next few months, his condition progressively worsened. As death crept closer, the pain became unbearable.
“All that suffering is really not called for, not for a young kid,” DeMarre Carroll said.
When he died, it was the family whose suffering became unbearable.
“It was similar to having a limb cut off,” the boys’ father said. “Even though it would be gone, that phantom sensation that you’d have with that limb would always be there.”
The transition would be particularly tough for DeAndre’ Carroll, who at the age of six was suddenly thrust into the big brother role.
“I wasn’t ready to be the older brother,” he said. “But I had no choice.”
To help deal with the loss, DeAndre’ and DeMarre Carroll spent nearly all of their time playing basketball, the game their older brother introduced to them as little kids.
It didn’t take long before they were the most feared duo on the block.
By the time DeAndre’ Carroll was a senior in high school, his basketball skills were impressive enough to generate interest from college scouts.
When deciding where to go, his first priority was to find a school close to home. With the opportunity to play for his uncle, Mike Anderson, at the nearby University of Alabama at Birmingham, Carroll immediately signed a letter of intent.
But as soon as he arrived at UAB, Carroll learned there would be no special treatment for being the coach’s nephew.
“My uncle, he’s got two sides,” Carroll said. “You got an ‘Uncle Mike’ and you got a ‘Coach Anderson.’ When it comes down to ‘Coach A,’ it’s all about business, and winning, and competing.”
Carroll saw how competitive his uncle was when Anderson decided to redshirt him his freshman year.
And after barely playing his sophomore season, Carroll told his uncle he was transferring.
“They teach you to be patient,” Carroll said. “But I wanted to play. I was ready to play then.”
As Carroll walked out of Coach Anderson’s office for the last time, Uncle Mike gave his nephew one last encouraging word.
“You never know,” he said. “Maybe you’ll do a full circle and come right back.”
Hoping for a new start, Carroll moved to Florida to play basketball at Pensacola Junior College. But once he got there, his problems spiraled out of control.
He missed most of the season with nagging injuries. Both of his grandmothers died. The damages left by a hurricane devastated the city.
Dejected, Carroll decided to move back to Birmingham. As far as he was concerned, his basketball career was over.
But a lot can change in a year.
In the spring, Missouri hired Anderson to coach the men’s basketball team. DeMarre Carroll, who spent his first two years of college playing basketball at Vanderbilt University, decided to transfer to play for his uncle.
Anderson’s son also signed on to play for the Tigers, and cousin T.J. Cleveland was hired as an assistant coach.
With a large chunk of his family migrating to the Midwest, Carroll decided to visit Columbia over the summer.
When Columbia College coach Bob Burchard caught word of Carroll’s arrival, he decided to take a trip to Mizzou Arena, where Carroll had been working out. Burchard was immediately impressed.
“In our recruiting, we’re always looking for guys that have a reason to be at Columbia College,” Burchard said. “Guys that have a connection with the coaching staff, have a connection with Columbia. He certainly fit that bill.”
Burchard offered Carroll a scholarship to play for the Cougars, and suddenly, Carroll’s fuzzy future became a lot more clear.
“It was really a blessing in disguise,” he said. “God don’t make mistakes.”
On the night before his biggest game in a Cougars’ uniform, Carroll sits undisturbed in the locker room, a winter jacket draped over his shoulders and a matching blue stocking cap pulled low enough on his head to cast a shadow over his eyes.
As he recollects on the hardships he has overcome through the years, Carroll speaks in a calm, yet deliberate, manner. It is the mature voice of a man who has been forced to grow up way too soon.
“Sometimes I feel like an old man, even when I’m talking to older people, because of all the stuff I’ve been through,” he says.
As he finishes his sentence, Carroll halts the conversation and turns up the volume on the flat-screen TV mounted in the locker room.
One of the local news stations is doing a feature on Carroll and his younger brother. Highlights and interviews with the two flood the television screen for the next three minutes.
As the segment ends and the volume returns to normal, a small smile creeps over Carroll’s face. A shimmer of light illuminates his eyes buried underneath his cap.
The old man is feeling young again.
“I’m still going through the trials and tribulations,” he says. “But it’s getting there. I know if I can get to the end, I’ll come out on top.”