Basketball

Family guy: Basketball roots run deep for Syracuse signee Carter-Williams

UPDATED: December 14, 2010, 5:50 p.m.

Michael Carter-Williams is very much the coach on the floor for St. Andrew’s (R.I.) School. A life surrounded by everything basketball will do that to any high schooler.

But Carter-Williams isn’t any other high school basketball player. Far from it. Carter-Williams is the closest thing to a regal Rhode Island basketball product the state has ever seen. The 2011 Syracuse basketball signee is the No. 8-ranked shooting guard in the country, according to Scout.com.

His ranking, though, doesn’t tell his story. His New England basketball lineage does. From his father to his mother to his stepfather. The places and high schools each has attended combined to foreshadow Carter-Williams’ own New England basketball journey. The former high schools of the three speak directly to Carter-Williams’ current situation.

‘Ever since I was born, really, I’ve had a good support system,’ Carter-Williams said.

His parental triumvirate molded and shaped his life into the form it takes today. The form is that of Rhode Island’s best basketball prospect. The form is one that reflects aspects of each of his three parents whose genetics and experiences have become interconnected within one of the nation’s top high school players.

***

Ironically, though, the high-profile stardom that surrounds Carter-Williams currently resides well away from the spotlight.

Carter-Williams attends the St. Andrew’s school, a nondenominational boarding school of 213 students in Barrington, R.I.

There, under the tutelage of head coach Mike Hart, the senior has come into his own.

‘Get up at 7 (a.m.),’ Hart said. ‘You got classes until three. Three to four, we have a study hall. Four to 4:45, we lift weights. Four forty-five to 6:15, we have practice. Study hall ‘til 7:30 (p.m.). Ten o’clock is free time in the dorm.

‘Lights out at eleven.’

He stays focused, and basketball is his life.

But to start his high school career, Carter-Williams’ environment was drastically different from his school in the country’s smallest state.

If Carter-Williams stayed for his final three seasons at his hometown Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School in Massachusetts, his mother said he would have been the first person from his school to play Division I basketball in college. He would have been the happy superstar in high school. Instead, he was willing to shift focus and decided to transfer to a school with a stronger outlook to play in college: St. Andrew’s.

It was the logical next step. He was raised to do it. A flashback to the 1990s speaks to that.

In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s most basketball players at Charlestown (Mass.) High School came from all over Boston. Carter-Williams’ stepfather, Zach Zegarowski, was an assistant coach at Charlestown then.

Charlestown is famous for a basketball program that is annually ranked as one of the top teams statewide and nationally — winning five championships in a seven-year span.

There are no blood connections between Carter-Williams and Zegarowski, but that doesn’t matter. From stepfather to stepson, the game was passed down.

‘He just teaches me the game and gets on how I play,’ Carter-Williams said. ‘He’s really smart.’

***

Carter-Williams’ biological parents had the right genes. Put simply, he was born into a basketball family.

He is the son of Amanda Carter-Zegarowski, girl’s basketball head coach at Ipswich High.

‘My mom, she’s probably my biggest critic,’ Carter-Williams said. ‘She’s probably the most hard on me.’

She is married to Zegarowski, who played college ball at UMass-Lowell. The family still has video of a 2-year-old Carter-Williams running up and down the court with a basketball while the game was in progress.

The scene was the start of the tri-parent basketball learning curve.

The last part of that curve is Carter-Williams’ biological father, Earl.

Earl has spent his life in and around the sport and continues to help at Cambridge Rindge and Latin (Mass.) School. He played college ball at Salem State from 1988 to 1990. He came from the same system as Patrick Ewing and Rumeal Robinson. And Carter-Williams was a part of that system, too, participating in clinics run by former St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. It was a system that kept Carter-Williams on the path to basketball stardom.

‘My dad, he just helps me a lot mentally,’ Carter-Williams said. ‘Along with my stepmother, too, she keeps me focused especially. (She) tells me to take advantage of your goals and stuff like that.’

***

That support system has enabled Carter-Williams, a 6-foot-5 point guard, to take full advantage of collegiate-like expertise.

Three years ago, Michael wasn’t a 6-foot-5 gem out of Rhode Island. Rather, a 5-foot-9 freshman having a great all-around year at Hamilton-Wenham in Massachusetts, leading his team into the league championship game. Carter-Williams averaged 20 points and buried 52 3-pointers. It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore season that his family started to get looks at Division I schools and attention from head coaches.

‘I think Massachusetts was one of the first schools to really start to show interest,’ Amanda said. ‘And I started to realize, wow, he can get a scholarship, and he’s continuing to grow. And he still has that baby face.’

The baby face then needed to move over to St. Andrew’s, the state basketball powerhouse. After all, he had been bred to do it.

In October 2009, after averaging just over 13 points per game as a sophomore for St. Andrew’s, Carter-Williams decided to verbally commit to Syracuse.

Regardless of his natural scoring ability on the court, and in spite of him lifting weights three times a week, if Carter-Williams has any convincing to do before he graduates, it will be on his frame and body size. The genetics of his father and mother, and the guidance of his stepfather, hurt him in that regard. Listed at what some say is a generous 175 pounds, Carter-Williams will perhaps have to continue to bench-press his way into Jim Boeheim’s rotation next fall.

‘He’s definitely going to have to get stronger,’ Scout.com’s Evan Daniels said. ‘That’s an area he’s going to need to focus on.’

Carter-Williams is described by Daniels as a tremendous scorer who can get to the basket in a variety of ways. He’s not only a very good long-range shooter, but he’s capable of taking guys off the dribble in mid-range and at the basket. Think Kevin Durant’s game in Shaun Livingston’s body.

‘When his body gets to where his game is, he’s going to be a really good basketball player,’ Williams said. ‘He’s thin, but he’s wiry strong.’

Being ‘wiry strong’ was handed down through genetics. The same genetics that, seemingly since Carter-Williams’ birth, have made sure he becomes Rhode Island’s next gem.

***

But before he can do all that, the humble, understated guard has to finish his senior season, arrive at Syracuse next fall and begin to carve out a career of his own.

Because for once, he will be on his own. After everything the unorthodox trio did for him.

Williams, for one, professes his son is ready for Syracuse.

Everything has led him up to this point.

‘You can see the desire in him,’ Williams said. ‘He loves basketball. When you’ve been around basketball all your life, either you’re going to get it or you’re not going to get it. And I definitely think that he got it.’

zoirvin@syr.edu

The original version of this article incorrectly stated Earl Williams’ college and professional basketball experience. He played at Salem State College from 1988 to 1990. He never played professional basketball. The Daily Orange regrets these errors.

Top Stories

Remembrance Week 2014

From the shadows

This year, the Remembrance Scholars created silhouettes of the 35 SU students who died in the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing and placed them throughout campus in locations where the victims would have most likely hung out. Read more »