Europe Interview: Jaycee Carroll Of Real Madrid
Jaycee Carroll has always been known as a talented scorer, but only this season has Utah State’s all-time leading scorer had a chance to demonstrate his skills on the biggest European scene. Carroll, who turned 29 this week, signed a long-term contract with European powerhouse Real Madrid last summer and became one of the team’s leaders right away.
Carroll, who already had two years experience in Liga Endesa (former ACB) before debuting in Euroleague, is the winner of the RealGM 2011-12 Euroleague Sixth Man of the Year Award and also made the All-Rookie 1st Team. The guard’s statistical numbers in Euroleague were more than impressive - 14.2 points, 2.6 rebounds in 22 minutes.
RealGM recently spoke with Carroll, who shared his thoughts about this Euroleague season, playing for an organization like Real, Nikola Mirotic and the Azerbaijan national team.
RealGM: Real was unstoppable in the Euroleague regular season, but we saw a different team in the Top-16 stage where you didn’t make it to the playoffs. What happened?
Carroll: We had a bad day, just one bad day in Bilbao, where we didn’t play well (Real lost that game, 69-93). Bilbao played extremely well and because of that we missed out on the points differential and missed out on the next round of Euroleague. Other than that, we had a good run. We finished beating Montepaschi at Siena. One bad day cost us an opportunity to play in the Final Four.
RealGM: Talking about your performance, you played like an MVP candidate in regular season, but in Top 16 it seemed you slowed down a bit.
Carroll: The competition just got better. We played against better teams, which scouted more. After my good performance, teams were more focused on containing me and making things more difficult on me.
RealGM: In general, how would you evaluate your Euroleague debut season?
Carroll: Personally, I am happy with my first Euroleague season. I think I played well, I think I showed well for myself. As a team, I think we did great and we deserved to be in playoffs. Unfortunately, it was our own fault and now we have to reload and focus for the next year.
RealGM: Is it fair to say that playing in ACB in the past years have helped you to get ready for Euroleague?
Carroll: Yes. Playing in the ACB, you are constantly playing Euroleague teams like FC Barcelona Regal, Unicaja, Caja Laboral. All these traditional, great European teams. There is not much of shock factor when you play against, for example, Maccabi, because you already played two full seasons against this kind of competition.
RealGM: What is like to play for a huge organization like Real Madrid?
Carroll: Basketball and soccer is a really good mix. Honestly, coming to Madrid was great. We have practice facilities which are ours. We can keep our stuff there. There are also people, who help us out with all the equipment we need, shoes and uniforms. Everything we need is always ready there. If we need anything special, medical treatment and things like that, they can always provide us that. The opportunity to compete at highest level and stay healthy is amazing.
On the other hand, it’s fun to be associated with the soccer team. We go to Santiago Bernabeu to watch soccer games. Do we talk with soccer players? We do it sometimes. We had Christmas dinner where everybody in the club was involved. They mixed people sitting at the table; therefore I sat with Kaka and Ricardo Carvalho for most of the dinner. It was really cool experience for me.
RealGM: Have you ever been in a situation where people in the States recognized Real as soccer, not a basketball team?
Carroll: Back in the U.S., we are not big soccer followers, but we do know big stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, and we know he plays for Real Madrid. So we do associate Real Madrid with soccer. We know Kaka, who plays for Real, and we do associate it with soccer. We know [Lionel] Messi and we do know he plays for Barcelona. But as Serge Ibaka and Rudy Fernandez played for us at the beginning of the season, I think the U.S. opened it eyes to the basketball side of Real Madrid and European basketball, and how really good it is.
RealGM: In your opinion, who is the main favorite to win the Euroleague?
Carroll: The main favorite now has to be CSKA. In my mind, it seems they have been dominating throughout the whole Euroleague season. They have NBA All-Star Andrei Kirilenko, who does a little bit of everything, and few other ex-NBA players, like Nenad Krstic. FC Barcelona Regal is also definitely a very good team. They have been in this situation before.
RealGM: Bulls draftee Nikola Mirotic became one of the key players of Real Madrid. As you spend a lot of time playing and training together with him, what is your opinion about this young talent?
Carroll: Nikola Mirotic is a good player. He is tall, long and athletic. One of the tools big guys in the States don’t develop is a jump shot and he shoots the ball very well from the three-point line. He is still young, though. He still has experience to gain and he needs to understand how physical the NBA game will be. I think he will be successful and he will continue to grow as a player with our coach, Pablo Laso. I think he does a great job helping him to develop. He is a really bright future here in Europe and possibly in the NBA as well.
RealGM: You have been a frequent participant in the NBA summer league. Is it in your plans this year and do you see yourself playing in the NBA in the near future?
Carroll: No, I don’t have any plans of playing in the NBA summer league. I have a couple more years on my contract with Real Madrid. I am over here, I’m trying to make the most of the opportunities I have. I’m trying to play well and climb up the ladder. My first three years in Europe, I felt like I was always fighting to get somewhere and for the first time in my career I finally feel I am at some place, arrived at the destination. I’m really happy here in Madrid. We will see what will happen in the next couple of years, but there is not reason why I couldn’t go back to the NBA and maybe finish my career over there.
RealGM: You have an Azerbaijan passport and now you will play for their national team. Could you tell me more about that?
Carroll: There is not much to say. They were looking for a player and I was on their radar, therefore I worked hard and I did what I could, and I will be playing with them this summer. Other countries showed interest in me during my career, but it never got finalized. My family was happy because they understand it is an opportunity to play at another level competition. They were surprised at the same time but they are looking forward to it. What was my friends’ reaction? My teammates gave me a little bit of hard time, but back home, all they know is that I play basketball and that is about it.