Vince Carter really wants Toronto to wrap up the Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Sure, the Raptors’ star wants to advance to the next round as soon as possible, but he has another motive: He doesn’t want to miss graduation.
Two straight victories by the Raptors would guarantee Carter could attend his graduation from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Sunday, the day of a possible Game 7. Carter said he will do everything within his power to attend his commencement.
“It’s going to be a big moment for me,” Carter said. “My life has had some thrilling moments, but this ranks right up there with all of them.”
“Regardless, I think I’m going to try to find a way,” said Carter, who will receive his degree in African studies. “Hopefully [the series] doesn’t go that long. If so I’m still going to try to make it.”
For the moment at least, Carter’s focus will be on the 76ers tonight in Game 5 of the best-of-7 series at Philadelphia’s First Union Center. The series is tied 2-2.
Carter’s biggest concern tonight will be improving the 8-for-27 shooting performance he had Sunday, when the Sixers evened the series with an 84-79 victory.
Carter might have an advantage tonight because the Sixers will be without starting forward George Lynch. Lynch had surgery Sunday to repair a broken bone in his left foot that will keep him sidelined 4-6 weeks. The Sixers likely will start unheralded second-year forward Jumaine Jones in Lynch’s place.
The Raptors’ success so far in the playoffs plus some of the notoriety he gained this year has overshadowed the other positives in his life, including his return to school.
Michelle Carter, Vince’s mother who has become visible at Toronto home games, is the biggest influence in her son’s life and has always stressed education.
When Vince left North Carolina after his junior year and before he signed a contract with the Raptors Michelle and Vince worked out a contract of their own. He agreed, in writing, that he would go back to school and complete his degree.
“I told her then that I wanted to get it for myself,” Carter said. “I worked hard to get it, and I know that she’s proud of that.”
Carter added that he didn’t want to be left out, in terms of higher education, when his family gets together.
“My mother, my dad, my grandmother, everybody’s accomplished that goal of going to college. You go to college, you might as well get your degree,” Carter said.
Carter follows a long line of former Tar Heels who have gotten their diplomas after leaving early.
Wizards president of basketball operations Michael Jordan left Carolina after his junior year but went back for his degree. Last year Detroit’s Jerry Stackhouse and Golden State’s Antawn Jamison, lottery picks who left school following their sophomore and junior years, respectively, graduated.
Carter, who left school in 1998 and was drafted No. 5 overall, says his offseason return to school has been a pleasure. Carter didn’t accept any star treatment when he returned to campus. He simply slipped a backpack over his shoulder and made his way to class.
“It was fun, it was fun,” Carter says. “What made it so fun was that my classmates and everybody around campus just treated me as a normal person. As far as the other students were concerned, they just treated me as Vince Carter, Carolina student. It was easy for me to go back into the classroom, be a student and do what I needed to do.”
The last year of Carter’s life has been interesting beyond his return to school, to say the least.
He was booed in Sydney, Australia, during the Olympics for his boorish behavior while on the Dream Team. He fired his controversial agent, who was accused by other clients of mismanaging funds. He has yet to indicate to the Raptors whether he will re-sign with the team. He backed out of defending his slam dunk title at the All-Star Game. And most recently Carter had his leadership ability questioned by teammate Charles Oakley.
But in a time when more athletes are leaving college or high school to enter the NBA Draft this year a record six high school players have submitted their names Toronto coach Lenny Wilkens believes his star’s actions deserve special mention.
“I think that that’s great,” Wilkens said. “You know, these young guys have enough money and they don’t have to go back. I think that’s usually ingrained in you by your parents, how important education is. Education is forever and knowledge is power. If you have that you’ve got something nobody in the world can take that away from you.”