VALPARAISO | Ali Berdiel and Keith Carter are complete strangers, but they share a common bond that will link the past and the present of Valparaiso basketball.
Carter will make his Valparaiso debut this evening when the Crusaders open up the UCF Holiday Classic in Orlando against Southeastern. The St. Louis transfer will be making arguably the most anticipated Crusader debut of any player since Berdiel put on a Valparaiso uniform for the first time against Purdue in 2001.
Much like Carter, Berdiel had spent a year on the sidelines, kept from playing the game he loved. Carter sat out because of NCAA transfer requirements; Berdiel, because the IHSAA ruled he was ineligible to compete at Andrean.
“I played like I had a chip on my shoulder,” Berdiel said in a Facebook message earlier this week. “(Sitting out) fueled me because I was so eager to play after I was ranked No. 1 in Indiana. It was extremely difficult to sit out that entire year. I’d never gone that long without playing before.”
Berdiel was once viewed as one of the top players in the state along with former Notre Dame guard Chris Thomas (Indianapolis Pike) and Wake Forest forward Vytas Danelius (Park Tudor). Living up to those expectations was a challenge for Berdiel after he spent so much time away from the game and ultimately went through five up-and-down years with the Crusaders.
Carter enters Valparaiso with similar high-level expectations. The Proviso East product finished second to now-Duke freshman phenom Jabari Parker in the 2012 Illinois Mr. Basketball race. The late Rick Majerus once compared Carter to NBA star Andre Miller after Carter signed with St. Louis last season.
Carter played in just three games at St. Louis before deciding to transfer. He’s patiently waited on the sidelines for the last year and now he’s ready to pounce.
“This has been a new experience for me,” Carter said. “There might be a little rust, but I’m just eager to get out there and try to make my team better. I’m excited, the team is excited and I’m looking to bring a lot of energy.”
Berdiel was able to manage expectations throughout his freshman season because he joined a senior–laden group that included Lubos Barton and Milo Stovall. Then-coach Homer Drew brought Berdiel along slowly and kept him out of the starting lineup. Bryce Drew may not have that luxury with Carter as there is continuing discussion as to whether or not the transfer will start in his first game.
“We’re still (several) days out from making a decision,” Drew said earlier this week. “A lot will depend on Lexus (Williams) and his status. It’s kind of a wait-and-see right now.”
Starting or not, Carter is expected to make a profound impact on the Crusaders. The sophomore guard views himself as a “point guard first-and-foremost” and that will allow Lavonte Dority to slide over to his natural shooting guard position.
They don’t know each other, but Berdiel’s interest is piqued in Carter and the Crusaders and the now-pop musician plans on watching from afar. There are few players that know what Carter has gone through over the last year, but count Berdiel as one who can empathize.
“All I could do was practice and that was so hard on me,” Berdiel said. “As a competitor, you want to challenge yourself every day and continue to get better. The whole situation was frustrating and I was so glad it ended.”