VALPARAISO | Bryce Drew isn’t known for straying too far off the company line when it comes to answering questions about his basketball team.
Ask the third-year Valparaiso coach about his starting lineup or the way he distributes minutes, and he’ll give a blanket answer about depth and lineup rotations.
Ask him about an upcoming game, such as tonight’s road contest against first-place Green Bay, and Drew will give the same recycled answer about how the Crusaders are just focusing on themselves. He might even apologize for giving the same answer time and time again.
Ask about Keith Carter, however, and suddenly Drew throws the script out the window and becomes refreshingly candid about the St. Louis transfer’s perceived struggles this season after being labeled with impossible-to-meet expectations.
“A lot of that was on me,” Drew said. “Keith had played so well in our practices, and we kind of threw him in there right off the bat. He and I have had some conversations about this. We put some high expectations on him, and he’s really only a freshman. I think he’s done a great job so far, and he’s displayed a willingness to learn. God willing, he’ll have a great career here.”
Carter played in just a handful of games at St. Louis before transferring to Valparaiso midway through last season. A nagging foot injury kept the Chicago native off the floor until postseason workouts.
Carter dazzled in open gym competition during the summer. He was so dominant in the offseason team sessions that he generated national buzz in several preseason publications.
Then the season began and more waiting ensued. While the NCAA seemingly operated at random in handing out transfer waivers, Carter was made to sit another 12 games while the rest of the team developed rhythm and chemistry. Carter started his first three games in a Valparaiso uniform, but clearly was behind the rest of his teammates. Short of a 19-point output against Illinois-Chicago in early January, Carter has yet to deliver on the potential the coaching staff raved about in the offseason.
“It’s definitely been some ups and downs so far,” Carter said. “I was kind of struggling at the beginning, but I’m starting to find my groove. I thought it would be hard, but maybe I didn’t think it would be this slow. Anything I can do to help the team, that’s my job right now.”
Carter nearly was the hero when he came centimeters away from stealing the ball before Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. knocked down a gut-wrenching game winner earlier this month. Carter has replayed the closing seconds multiple times in his mind, and he’s relied on his teammates to lift his spirits.
Carter bounced back with two early 3-pointers against Milwaukee on Saturday, flashing the potential that has Drew believing that the sophomore is still capable of taking over any game and providing a big boost down the stretch of the regular season.
“He became eligible just before conference, and he hasn’t had the room to grow, because we needed to get everyone ready for those games,” Drew said. “There’s no question that we don’t win some of the close games we’ve won if he’s not out there.”