RENO - David Carter has made very few trips to Saint Mary's College since he graduated in 1989, and they have mostly been to coach against his alma mater.
This time, he gets to mix a little business with pleasure.
Carter, Nevada's associate head basketball coach, faces his alma mater for the first time in three years on Saturday at McKeon Pavilion in Moraga, Calif. Carter and his 1989 SMC teammates, who won the West Coast Conference title and a earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a 25-5 record, will be honored. Later in the spring, Carter will be inducted into the college's Hall of Fame.
"I'm very excited," Carter said, relaxing in his office that serves as Nevada's film room in Legacy Hall. "I don't get back there often. A lot of friends keep me up with the school academically and athletically. It will be nice to see my old teammates.
"It's (Hall of Fame) a great honor. I look forward to the introduction (on Saturday and in April). I feel a lot of it has to do with my teammates. Obviously they made me look good."
Carter is, of course, being modest. He was a talented point guard. He was second in career assists with 498, third in steals with 130 and eighth in games played (125 games, 112 starts in four years).
GROWING UP IN L.A. WASN'T EASY
Carter, the youngest of five children, grew up in a lower-middle class family in the inner city of Los Angeles. It wasn't an easy life, avoiding the pitfalls that come with living in a big city - gangs and drugs.
"Both my parents worked," Carter said. "My dad was old school. He believed in working and paying your dues. We didn't have a lot either. The first place we lived in L.A. was a two-bedroom apartment. My parents had one room and the rest of us were in the other bedroom. There was a lot of fighting going on in there."
Carter got in some minor scrapes, but never was in jail or serious trouble. He also learned that playing sports helped keep him busy, and for the most part, was left alone.
And, boy could he play basketball. Carter went to Crenshaw High, or The Shaw as it's known in the inner city. In three seasons, with the legendary Willie West at the helm, Crenshaw lost just five games and won state titles in 1983 and 1985.
That ability and his ability in the classroom enabled him to escape the big city. To hear him talk, however, it was a beneficial experience.
"It's a spirit that you can never replace," he said. "You learn street smarts. My older brothers looked out for me and made sure I stayed out of trouble. If you played athletics, they (the gangs) tended to leave you alone. They looked at it as one way to get out of the situation you were in. Learning to play sports was an avenue out. Some athletes tended to do both; a few of the guys I grew up with.
"It taught me a lot about life; where I was from and where I wanted to go. We were one of a few families where both parents were at home."
TOUGH START AT SMC
At the outset of his college career, Carter had to endure something that didn't happen often during his high school career - losing. The Gaels went 10-17 under Bill Oates, who left after the season.
Oates was a taskmaster, and Carter admitted the team didn't react well to it.
"He told us we didn't know how to win at this level," Carter said. "We didn't like the discipline placed on us. It was difficult for us. He said that most of us wouldn't make it."
Lynn Nance came on board the following year, and turned the Saint Mary's program around, going 61-27 in three years before leaving.
Nance made a great impression on Carter, especially with his offensive tactics.
"As a player, I enjoyed his offensive system," Carter said, referring to Nance's triangle offense. "It helped us win a lot of games."
It was after that season, and after going home and helping coach West during the summer that Carter knew he wanted to coach.
"We (coach West and I) talked about goals," Carter said. "I told him someday I'd like to coach; that I would enjoy going back and working with young men. I thought it would be a terrific thing to do; to do something with education."
Carter finished up his playing career at Saint Mary's, leading the Gaels to the WCC regular-season title. They lost to Santa Clara in the conference tournament semifinals, and then lost to Clemson in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
NANCE, WEST ARE MENTORS
Carter said Nance and West have been the two biggest influences on his coaching career, and it was West who gave him the best advice.
"When I decided I wanted to coach, I talked to coach West on how to go about it," Carter said. "He asked if this was really what I wanted to do. He told me if I wanted to coach at the college level that I needed to go to grad school and get with a Division I program and learn as much as I could. He said you can always come back to the high school level."
Carter followed that advice, working at Washington in 1989-90 and then at Diablo Valley College in the Bay Area from 1992-95, helping the Vikings to their first Elite 8 appearance at the California community college state playoffs. He went on to work for two years at Eastern Washington (1995-97), recruiting many of the players who eventually made the NCAA Tournament a couple of years later.
He landed a job at his alma mater in 1997, working with Dave Bollwinkel, a scout for the Chicago Bulls and an analyst who broadcasts a lot of Nevada games.
"He is, in fact, the real coach Carter for several reasons," Bollwinkel said, making reference to the movie about Richmond High coach Kevin Carter that came earlier this year. "Not only is he a good coach, he has compassion and cares for young people that was fantasized in that movie. It epitomized David.
"When David was with me five years ago, he wasn't quite as forward. He was younger and not quite that experienced."
ON TO NEVADA
Carter took an assistant job at Nevada in 1999 with Trent Johnson, and it proved to be a wise move. A year later, current head coach Mark Fox joined the staff as associate head coach. Carter now has the associate head coach moniker, and is considered a hot head-coaching prospect.
Carter was ranked the best assistant coach in the Western Athletic Conference by Street & Smith magazine, and he has played an integral part in Nevada's back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
And, Carter believes he is ready to move over 18 inches and take over as head job somewhere.
"I think I am," Carter said. "I think I understand what it takes to run a program. I worked with Steve Agers at Eastern Washington and watched Steve take that and turn it around. Then the first two or three years I was here and watched Trent (Johnson) do the same thing. Mark has kept it up. That has allowed me to see what it takes to build a program.
"A lot of people have asked me (about being a head coach), I think it's about timing. The right job has to open up. There are a lot of assistant coaches qualified to be head coaches. I'm not looking to get out. I like it here. I like working with coach Fox. I loved working with coach Johnson."
And Fox doesn't want him to leave anytime soon, though he concedes that Carter is ready to make an upward move.
"He's ready," Fox said. "He was ready last year. He took major steps forward last year. I'm very fortunate to have him. He runs practice (sometimes) and he coached one game in Italy.
"He's prepared for it. We're on the same page. He's done a terrific job ever since he's been here. He understands the game, and he's great with the players."
Carter has had one nibble thus far, that coming from San Jose State, where he was one of five finalists for the head coaching job that eventually went to George Nessman. Carter enjoyed the interview process, but didn't really want the job.
Mo Charlo, the Pack's talented senior forward, has enjoyed working with Carter.
"He's very outstanding," Charlo said. "He takes the time to explain the little things to you; to make you understand them better. He really worked with me. I give him all the credit for my improvement this season.
"He's a funny guy. He jokes everyday. He can and has been tough when he needs to be. Someday we'll lose him. I know that's what he wants (to be a head coach)."
Bollwinkel has noticed some differences in Carter the last couple of years.
"There are a lot of things I've seen since I worked with him," Bollwinkel said. "When I watch them do a walk through and go through game preparation, he has a better attention to detail.
"With Trent, he didn't have to be as forceful. I think with Mark, he's become more forceful and needs to be more forceful."
And, while he's not ready to pack his bags soon, another trip to the NCAAs may open up some positions that Carter might find interesting.
n Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281