Wendell Carter Jr. was going to be the star at Duke. And why not? After his sophomore high school season when he averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds, he led his AAU team to a championship. Then as a high school junior he had 30 points and 20 rebounds in the state championship game win and then a repeat championship as a senior when he averaged just short of 23 points and 16 rebounds, a rugged all around player with a deft shooting touch and physical presence on the boards. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had his center and playmaker.
But then super athlete Marvin Bagley III reclassified to skip a senior high school year and go right to Duke and the second selection in Thursday's NBA draft. So for the best interests of the team and success, Carter Jr. stepped aside, but not out of the way.
"I fit perfectly with Chicago."
-Wendell Carter Jr. on the phone after being drafted as the 7th overall pick
It may prove his biggest strength in the NBA.
Carter Jr. at Duke averaged 13.5 points and 9.1 rebounds with 2.1 blocks with a prime efficiency, taking fewer than nine shots per game. But hardly overlooked as he was selected No. 7 by the Bulls in Thursday's NBA draft, his attitude and commitment auguring well for a player who can be another foundation piece for building a team.
"I don't think I'm undervalued,” Carter Jr. told Chicago media in a phone interview to the Advocate Center after he was drafted. "I was playing alongside a great teammate in Marvin Bagley, but that just showed I'm able to play with other great players to help my team win.
"I fit perfectly with Chicago,” Carter Jr. continued. "It's a perfect spot for me to jump right in and be the best player that I can be, continue to learn and become better. Lauri (Markkanen) and I can complement each other very well; he's a fantastic player. He's someone I can learn from and complement each other on both ends of the court, really similar to Marvin Bagley at Duke.”
Though there were several centers selected ahead of Carter Jr. in Thursday's draft with Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr., Carter Jr. was perhaps a unique fit for the Bulls to play with developing star Markkanen.
Markkanen already has bulked up physically and projects as an alternative center as well, enabling Markannen and Carter Jr. to switch and play off one another even better than Carter Jr. did with Bagley.
Carter Jr., though about 6-9 without sneakers, has a long 7-5 wingspan and a standing reach of 9-1, which projects with the bigger centers. His edge is with already a solid frame and weight of about 250, which is about 25 pounds more than, for example, Bamba despite Bamba being about three inches taller. The Bulls believe it will enable Carter Jr. to handle the NBA's physical play. While being a high draft pick who understands and embraces the importance of the team concept.
That's vital now with the Bulls having an opportunity to grow with a group of young players with Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and No. 22 draft pick Chandler Hutchison.
Carter Jr., 19, is an Atlanta native who was in drama classes and stage productions, so he understands the ensemble concept. He also was the only top draft pick who was recruited by Harvard before he eventually settled on Duke for the basketball possibilities.
He drew comparisons during the ESPN TV broadcast to former Duke star and Bulls player Carlos Boozer while also to Al Horford in analyses before the draft, a productive, if not explosive, player. But Carter Jr., again, insisted he's not to be underestimated or overlooked.
"The fans are going to want to come to the games and see (what I can do),” he said. "I'm becoming obsessed with getting to that next level, wanting to achieve the ultimate goal. I'm gonna do what it takes to win, and the Bulls recognized that. I'm excited. It's an honor that the Bulls selected me at seven. I'm looking forward to be the next great player for them."