Mon May 09 04:36pm EDT
When you stand just 5-foot-6, you usually aren't considered a basketball prodigy.
When you are just a 17-year-old sophomore in high school, you usually aren't considered a pro prospect.
Aquille Carr -- in what many will consider a surprise -- apparently is both.
The quick-as-lightning, high-scoring, show-stopping point guard from Patterson (Md.) High School returned from a recent tournament in Milan, Italy, with a $750,000 contract offer that conceivably could be worth nearly $1 million.
Really? Yes. Multiple sources close to the negotiations independently confirmed the offer with Prep Rally.
But before anyone need shout that this is just the latest example of too-much too-soon in the youth athletic world, realize this -- the offer from Lottomatica Virtus Roma of the Italian league actually makes sense when you break it down.
It's the result of a perfect storm of events that culminated with Carr leading the U.S. team to a gold medal at the Junior International Tournament in Milan in late April.
• Carr was the best player in the tournament, averaging more than 40 points per game;
• Carr's height -- or lack thereof -- actually gives him more of a professional appeal. The Italian fans literally carried him off the court after his heroics in one game;
• The pro team making the offer had great success with its previous U.S. high school import, Brandon Jennings, who used his year in Italy to improve his NBA draft status;
• Under Armour, which already has Jennings as a client, is looking for the next fresh face in the European market. Carr, who already plays on an Under Armour-sponsored AAU team, could be in line for a shoe deal, too;
• And though Carr is still a sophomore, he is an over-aged one. He's already 17 and will turn 18 during the next school year.
While all of these things work in his favor, staying in the U.S. may not. Because of his height and some academic concerns, Carr actually is only considered an upper mid-level collegiate prospect here, according to Rivals.com national basketball analyst Jerry Meyer.
Carr, who first confirmed the offer in this video interview with Scouts Focus chief scout Joe Davis, told Davis the offer is something he is considering right now and for the future.
"Yes, I would be interested in [playing abroad] one day," Carr told Davis on the video above. "It was fun over there. I had to get adjusted to how they were playing. My second, third, fourth and fifth game, I was averaging like 41 points.
"I just want to keep [the Roma offer] in mind. I don't want to make my decision so fast. But perhaps we might do that."
It's unclear how long the offer will be on the table. Multiple attempts to reach the Virtus Roma front office were unsuccessful. And while Carr's high school coach, Harry Martin, told Prep Rally he expects Carr to return to school, he did it with some hesitation.
The terms of Carr's offer were confirmed by Martin and another person close to the Carr family, with Martin adding that Carr plans to speak with Jennings about playing in Italy in the near future.
Virtus Roma is the same Italian side that signed Jennings to a $1.2 million, three-year contract when the 18-year-old point guard decided to decline a scholarship offer to Arizona in favor of a season of professional basketball in Italy. Jennings, of course, returned to the U.S. after one season in Rome and was a lottery draft pick for the Milwaukee Bucks, for whom he has become an All-Star starting guard.
In addition to his AAU affiliation with the brand, Carr's high school program in Baltimore will also begin a two-year affiliation with Under Armour beginning next fall. Part of that athletic sponsorship will include an appearance by Patterson High at the Brandon Jennings Invitational next January in Milwaukee.
Martin said that Jennings plans to meet with Carr in the coming months to discuss playing in Italy. It's clear that while Carr's current plan may be to finish high school in Maryland, he and his family will keenly consider all options on the table.
"I think he's committed to playing for Patterson for the next two years, and then he would consider all options," Martin told Prep Rally. "I think it's just him keeping his options open. …
"This time next year we'll have a better understanding what he's doing academically and what his options are."
While it is unknown if or when Carr might accept the Virtus Roma contract offer, the source close to the Carr family told Prep Rally that he expected the Carrs and the player's team of advisers to consider European options seriously. While Carr has a cult following in the Baltimore-D.C. corridor -- he scored 58 points in a victory against Forest Park (Md.) High this winter, and he reportedly has a 48-inch vertical leap -- some question whether he would academically qualify to compete at the NCAA level, or whether he would be successful there given his height. Martin said he was already beginning to reach out to European contacts to see what Carr's true market value might be should he decide to play abroad.
Carr's family could make the transition to Europe slightly easier if the athlete does decide to take that option, as well. The sophomore's parents live together in Baltimore and he has only two siblings, both of whom are already out of the house; his older brother Allen Jr. was a standout football player in the Baltimore high school football scene and his older sister Ashley will graduate from nearby Towson University in the coming weeks. It's possible that either one of his siblings -- or his father, Allen, or mother, Tammy -- could move abroad with Carr should he choose to play in Italy.
The $750,000 offer is not the first made to a pre-graduation American teenager by a European club, but it is the most lucrative. Six-foot-11 San Diego (Calif.) High star Jeremy Tyler left school after his junior season with a plan to play professionally for two years before declaring for the NBA draft. He first signed a $140,000 contract with Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Haifa, in April 2009, but left Maccabi after just 10 games and returned to practice near his home in March of 2010. Four months later Tyler signed a contract with the Tokyo Apache of the Japanese professional league, for which he competed in the 2010-11 season.
Many have pointed to Carr's height as the primary reason to doubt his skills. Rivals.com analyst Jerry Meyer said it will be interesting to see if Carr's skills transfer to the professional game in Europe, should he decide to accept his offer.
"The question on Carr as a high-level basketball prospect is whether or not his strengths as a player are strong enough to overcome his lack of height. Evidently, Virtus Roma thinks so."
It's also instructive to ponder whether Carr's European recruitment could serve as a potential watershed moment in how Euro teams approach American prospects. The European leagues have traditionally feasted on U.S. players who wash out of the NBA or aren't able to make its initial cut, with the notable exception of Josh Childress' spell in Greece and Jennings' time in Rome, among a few others. At the same time, European soccer clubs rely on an academy system to fuel their success, acquiring and training athletes at a young age and helping to build them into stars at the club.
While it's a stretch to say that a signing of Carr alone might signal a switch to American incorporation in the academy model, a successful transition into the Italian game from the Baltimore native might open doors to such a possibility for other American teenagers.
From the experiences Carr had at the Junior International Tournament, there is little question that the pint-sized point guard enjoyed his first trip to Italy. In addition to an impromptu Aquille Carr fan club, which was pictured hanging signs in Milan at the U.S. games, Martin said Italian fans in general flocked to treat Carr and his teammates as celebrities.
"I know after one game he scored 45 points and Italian fans carried him off the court," Martin told Prep Rally. "They tell me the kids over there had him signing lots of autographs. He loved it. That's what he was looking forward to. Experience the different culture and lifestyle over there, and experience some tourist things."
Needless to say, he came back with more than just championship memories.