Master of the Little Things

At the age of 18, young Jackie Carmichael packed up his life in Manhattan, KS, and migrated 1,400 miles northeast to South Kent, CT. Coming out of Manhattan High School, Carmichael, now a 6-9, 240-pound 2013 NBA Draft prospect, felt his high school career limited his recruiting opportunities to play college ball.

He had always dreamed of playing for his hometown Kansas State Wildcats and becoming the next Michael Beasley. But despite averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior, he didn’t quite fit the mold of Frank Martin’s regime at the Octagon of Doom. All of his recruiting interest that came from the Kansas Jayhawks evaporated once Bill Self’s then-assistant coach, Tim Jankovich, left Lawrence for his second stint as a Division I head coach at Illinois State.

Carmichael surveyed his surroundings. It wasn’t time for the determined youngster to enter the collegiate realm.

“I wasn’t really happy with my college options,” Carmichael said. “I felt like I could accomplish a little bit more and really just wanted to play against some different competition. You know, Kansas wasn’t really known basketball-wise, it was more of a football state, so I figured I’d go out to the east coast and really challenge myself and play against top-tier players.”

And east he went. Just months after he graduated high school, Carmichael joined head coach Kelvin Jefferson and the South Kent Prep Cardinal in the fall of 2008.

Under Jefferson’s tutelage, Carmichael began to blossom on and off the court. Fresh off his fifth year as the head man of the Cardinal, Jefferson believes that Carmichael benefited from competing against constant competition of the New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Council (NEPSAC). Often considered the top prep school league in the nation, the NEPSAC annually features several top-100 recruits and provides some of the toughest pre-college competition on the hardwood that any college hopeful could face. Carmichael vividly remembers clashing with former Kansas Jayhawk, and now-Houston Rocket, Thomas Robinson in a league game. Jefferson believes that Carmichael not only held his own, but succeeded in the league and matured as a player.

“When he came here, he was mature enough and wise enough to understand that a year at prep school was going to only help him continue to get ready for the next level of basketball,” said Jefferson. “He understood that physically and academically, that year was going to help him. It takes a lot of maturity to take advantage of that extra year so that when you get to college you’re able to hit the ground running.”

But, maturity was never a weak spot in Carmichael’s character, unlike many guys who need a year or two playing post-grad ball at a prep school.

“Moving out to Connecticut, I didn’t know what was in store for me,” Carmichael recalled. “I hadn’t been to South Kent before, but I enjoyed it, I embraced it, I understood why I was out there and what I was there to accomplish. Out in Connecticut, I was 21 hours away from home, so I was able to really grow and become a man over that time.”

Carmichael’s plan worked. Nearing the end of his campaign with South Kent, the big man received recruiting interest from some big-time college basketball programs that he always envisioned he would. Then Big East schools Georgetown, UConn and West Virginia wanted his services. Minnesota and Missouri were interested in what he brought to the court. Texas A&M wanted him screening and rolling for point guard Donald Sloan. But a familiar face in a new place at Illinois State piqued his interest the most.

On a spring break trip back home, Carmichael attended Jankovich’s Illinois State team’s 2009 NIT matchup at KSU in his hometown. The now-esteemed recruit was impressed as the Redbirds battled the favored Wildcats into overtime and narrowly fell, 83-79.

“I wanted to be able to help a team in any way or facet possible, but I wanted to also get valuable playing time right away,” Carmichael said of his second college recruitment process. “ I felt like I was able to accomplish both of those things right away as a freshman [at Illinois State]. So, I felt it was a great opportunity for me to be able to step into that leadership role and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to be able to be the face of a program and take my game to another level.”

Under Jankovich and Dan Muller, Illinois State’s head coach for Jackie’s senior season, Carmichael took his game to the next level during his four seasons at Illinois State. He morphed into a double-double machine in his junior year and averaged a staggering 17.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in his senior season.

When he declared for the Draft in April, Carmichael proudly did so as the schools all-time leading shot-blocker who also ranked eighth in career scoring and third in career rebounding. He built a reputation in the ever-deep Missouri Valley Conference as a ferocious rebounder and rim protector.

“My favorite thing to do on the court is rebound. Rebound and block shots,” Carmichael said. “I’m a very defensive-minded player; I love guarding the other team’s best player. You know, throwing someone’s shot into the third row gets the crowd into it, gets your team into it as much as a dunk or a fancy pass would on offense.”

But while rebounding and shot-blocking are often the two skills that translate the most from college to the L, and are the main reason he’ll likely get drafted, Carmichael’s ability to excel at the little things that don’t show up in the box score is why an NBA team should fall in love with him.

Carmichael thrives when setting a powerful screen and knows how to fight for position down low, both offensively and defensively. It’s his footwork and mental dexterity that allows him to steadily compete with and stop 7-footers in the post at his height.

In today’s modern age where every young baller wants to be featured on SportsCenter’s Top Plays, Carmichael relishes the opportunity to scab up his knees diving for the rock rather than draining a step-back three in a defender’s grill.

“I think [doing the little things] is kind of a lost art. It’s really just about paying attention to the details and just doing the dirty work,” Carmichael said. “Every team is going to have great players and someone that can shoot the three. But, not every team is going to have a guy that’s going to dive after loose balls, make the hustle play and go out for a block. It’s very old school and traditional.”

Muller, who compared Carmichael to Udonis Haslem in a video, thinks that “Jackie’s role is going to be a rebounding, complimentary 4-man that can spread the floor by knocking a few jumpers down, but also can do the dirty work inside and set some great ball screens. He can really move his feet defensively and has great versatility on the defensive end that lets him guard multiple positions if he needs to. I think he’s going to be a very good role player.”

Carmichael will also bring a positive attitude and an unending work ethic to the next level.

“No matter where I get taken in the Draft, I’ll be happy and embrace it. You know, Isaiah Thomas made it as the 60th pick, so I feel like I can go anywhere and be productive.”

He took a coaching change his senior year as a blessing, rather than a curse. He was invited to the NBA Draft Combine out of a mid-major program. He’s moved from Kansas to Connecticut to Illinois in a span of five years with ease.

And now, he’s coming to an arena near you.