Darius Carter Jr. didn’t know where life would take him when he graduated from Firestone High School in 2011.
He hoped it would take him somewhere he could play basketball competitively.
Vincennes University, a junior college in Indiana, gave Carter the opportunity he was looking for to continue to prep as a student and as an athlete.
Three years after leaving Akron, Carter is a Division I scholarship athlete on the undefeated and nationally ranked Wichita State University men’s basketball team.
The Shockers, ranked No. 2 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 4 in the Associated Press poll, are 27-0 overall and 14-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference following Sunday’s 84-68 victory over host Evansville.
“It has been like a dream for me,” Carter said by telephone. “I always pictured this growing up, being on one of the top 10 teams and now I am living it.
“Coming in, I didn’t really know what to imagine. I didn’t really imagine it being quite like this, but I am loving it. I plan on continuing to help us win.”
Syracuse (25-0) is ranked No. 1 in both polls. Arizona (23-2) and Florida (23-2) are third and fourth in the USA Today poll and second and third in the AP poll.
Wichita State vaulted into the national spotlight last year when coach Gregg Marshall guided the Shockers to the Final Four.
“We are just going game-by-game and day-by-day, and working hard every day,” Carter said. “We don’t talk about being undefeated. We try to go out and play hard every game.”
Carter, who is a 6-foot-7 and 235-pound junior forward, came in to Sunday’s game averaging 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game as a reserve. He has reached double figures eight times.
Carter’s first double-double was in win No. 10 when he had 11 points and 14 rebounds against Tennessee. His high game is 19 points against North Carolina Central.
A star at Firestone
Carter averaged about 23 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks per game his senior season at Firestone, where he was a three-year varsity starter for coach Joe Wojcik, who is now the coach at East. The two remain in touch and Wojcik not only watches him on television, but plans to attend Wichita State’s game at Bradley on Feb. 25.
“The main thing with Darius is the development of his body,” said Wojcik, who went to some of Carter’s games at Vincennes. “He was always long and lean, now he has added 25 pounds of muscle. He is a matchup nightmare. He can play the 3 [small forward], 4 [power forward] or 5 [center].”
Carter was named the City Series Player of the Year and was an All-Ohio selection as a senior, and has continued to improve each year.
“Darius has really put the time in not only in the weight room, but also the classroom and the gym,” Wojcik said. “He is an improved student and player. Every time Wichita State is on TV, I watch to see him play. He has come up with some phenomenal dunks and he is knocking down some jumpers. He is an athlete out there and fun to watch.”
Path to Vincennes
Carter received scholarship offers from the University of Akron and Kent State when he was a sophomore. He started to look at the junior college route because he wanted to up his grades and also see if he could attract schools from the larger conferences.
“I went to visit Vincennes and saw how great of a campus it was and I liked it there,” said Carter, who started for two years and earned junior college All-American honors in 2013.
As a freshman, Carter averaged 11.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He then averaged 15.8 points (tied for first on team) as a sophomore on 54 percent shooting and grabbed a team-leading 8.3 rebounds as the Trailblazers (33-4) finished fourth in the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament. He was named to the All-Tournament team after he scored 78 points and grabbed 32 rebounds in four games.
“When we got to the big stage of the postseason there were a lot of coaches there,” Carter said. “I played very well in the tournament. Wichita State had talked to me before that. I really liked the program and the campus. It seemed like a great fit for me.”
Carter said he chose Wichita State over scholarship offers from Ball State, Miami of Ohio, Ohio, Cincinnati, Western Kentucky, Illinois State, Seton Hall, Southern Mississippi, Murray State, Southern Illinois, Northern Kentucky and Akron.
“I wanted to get away and experience living on my own to get ready for life after college,” Carter said. “I think it can help you grow as a person to get out and not be close enough to drive home every weekend.”
His parents, Darius Carter Sr. and LaShawn Williams, and sister, Darian, regularly watch him play on TV and saw him play in person twice earlier this season. Darian is a junior basketball player at Firestone and was named City Series Player of the Year last week.
Winning in Wichita
Carter, who has an associate degree in general studies and science from Vincennes, is majoring in sociology at Wichita State. He is on the Shockers second unit with 6-9 senior Chadrack Lufile, 6-6 senior Nick Wiggins, 6-5 sophomore Evan Wessel and 6-7 freshman Derail Green.
Senior Cleanthony Early, a 6-8 forward, leads Wichita State at 16.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He is joined in the starting lineup by 6-3 sophomore Ron Baker, 5-11 sophomore Fred VanVleet, 6-2 junior Tekele Cotton and 6-9 senior Kadeem Coleby. Baker, VanVleet and Cotton also average double figures with Early.
Carter also keeps tabs on his alma mater back home, which is led by coach Dave Milo, who was a Falcons assistant for three of Carter’s four years of high school.
“When he is home for the holidays he always makes a point to stop by and say hi,” Milo said. “He always gets to a game and interacts with the guys.”
Milo said Carter’s development has not been totally surprising.
“You knew he was going to fill out,” Milo said. “He had the body where he was going to get bigger. He has always been athletic, coordinated, had a beautiful shot and been a good rebounder. I don’t think he has reached his full potential yet. He is still getting better. I am so happy for Darius. He is a really nice kid who doesn’t get in trouble.”
Wojcik and Milo both think Carter’s future could include getting paid to play basketball.
“After he left Vincennes, he said he wanted the best opportunity to play professional basketball,” Wojcik said. “I think he has found himself a great opportunity to advance his career to the league [NBA] or to a pro career overseas.”