Mavericks: Benson grad makes fearless impact in men’s basketball

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December 12th, 2011

Omaha, NE – The University of Nebraska-Omaha men’s basketball team has started the season with a 4-7 record. A bright spot for UNO has been the play of true freshman CJ Carter. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott recently caught up with Carter on the court.

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CJ Carter, 18, has started every game for UNO this season. (Photo courtesy UNO Athletics)

Before arriving at UNO, CJ Carter attended Benson High School in Omaha, where he was a three-year starter for the Bunnies. A quick look at Carter’s exploits while at Benson shows some remarkable stats. Carter scored 33 points in a game at the Metro Tournament in 2009 when he was a junior. He also scored 35 points in the semi-finals of the OPS Jamboree Tournament that same year. Carter averaged 13 points as a senior, and he had a season high total of 29 points in a first-round overtime loss in the state playoffs.

“It was good,” Carter said. “It was actually my first time going to state for my team…I just wish it went different way, but it didn’t.”

Carter was recruited by Wichita State, Iowa State and Siena to play basketball, but chose to stay closer to home. This was to the benefit of the UNO basketball program and head coach Darren Hansen.

“That has been an added bonus,” Hansen said. “I thought he’d be good. He is even been better than I thought, which has helped our team.”

In the opening game of his Division I career, Carter scored 18 points for UNO on seven of 12 shooting. Carter, who is only 18 years old, became the first Maverick basketball player to start as a true freshman since Andrew Bridger accomplished the same feat in 2006. When asked about his performance in his first game, Carter kept it simple.

“Oh, it was good for me. I got my foot into the door for DI, so it was pretty good.”

Carter has averaged 10 points and three rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the field through seven games. What makes those stats even more extraordinary, according to Hansen, is that Carter has been pushed into playing two positions for UNO: point guard and shooting guard. Hansen said this is not representative of what a normal first year player is asked to do, and described what makes Carter so crucial to the team.

CJ Carter takes a shot over an opponent. (Photo courtesy UNO Athletics)

“Well I think number one, he has brought us some athleticism,” Hansen said. Because CJ is an athletic player.”

“I think defensively he can get some tip and steals, buy us some extra possessions. I think CJ can guard the ball really well; he has done a good job there. Offensively, he is one of the few guys on the team … that can get the ball from the wing or in transition, and get it all the way to the paint or to the basket.”

But Hansen also had some ways he would like to see Carter improve as the season progresses.

“Now that he has gotten in there, once his decision making gets a little bit better, his consistency….gets a little bit better, the turnovers go down and his efficiency continues to go up, so then we get some more consistency come January and February.”

After attending a practice this week, it didn’t take long to actually see the impact Carter has on the team. He was everywhere, attempting to steal away passes, gunning for the basket and looking for an open teammate to pass the ball to when the defense had collapsed on him. Hansen also said creating opportunities for his teammates by putting pressure in the paint is an added benefit.

“I guess those are some intangibles he has, but he is also fearless,” Hansen said. “Nothing scares CJ, so we’ve been really happy with his development so far as a freshman.”

Carter said senior guard Mitch Albers has taken him under his wing and helped with the intricacies of college basketball. Carter also mentioned his defense and passing as techniques he would like to improve on. In the game against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State, December 4th, Carter scored the first points of the game, a three pointer.

“It felt good to hit a three against Michigan State,” Carter said. “I thought I would have a good game, but it didn’t go that way. It was a good experience, wouldn’t mind going back there again.”

In the Mavs’ most recent game, this past Saturday night, Carter scored 10 points and added six rebounds. Though the Mavs fell short in the overtime loss to IPFW 83-80, Carter made a three-pointer as the buzzer expired.

The rest of the way, UNO has 18 games left including games against the University of Nevada, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Western Illinois University and the University of California Bakersfield. As for the rest of the season, Hansen said Carter has a chance to align himself with some of the best freshman UNO basketball has seen.

“He is right there with all the good ones,” Hansen said. “He has transitioned like a lot of the good ones, maybe great ones we’ve had. That gives us a lot to look forward to with CJ.”

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