Up Next

Locker Room Talk

Wendell Carter Jr.’s parents are split over whether Duke star should leave for the NBA

Mom changed her mind, while Dad still sees it as a business decision

Wendell Carter Jr. was prepared to make his announcement on Wednesday.

Then he wasn’t.

His parents sent a brief text: “Sorry but we are on hold. We thought he was ready but he isn’t.”

Carter, who turns 19 on Monday, was not convinced that he wants to leave Duke for the NBA.

What a delightful change of pace.

Aside from Loyola-Chicago’s run to the Final Four, Carter’s indecision is the most refreshing aspect of the 2018 men’s basketball season. Think about it: A surefire lottery pick is seriously having second thoughts about leaving college after one season.

The one-and-done era is a tired charade. Players, with parental consent and coaches’ urging, use college for a nine-month marriage of convenience, then leave for the NBA.

The one-and-done era is a tired charade. Players, with parental consent and coaches’ urging, use college for a nine-month marriage of convenience, then leave for the NBA. Carter wants to be a college student. Duke was not just a passing fancy, a place to solidify his brand.

Carter liked school, liked his classmates. He took college so seriously that he was close to choosing Harvard over Duke. This is why he is having such a tough time deciding to be a one-and-done. “He’s a student,” his mother, Kylia, said by phone Wednesday.

“That’s who he is at his core. Yes, he’s a great basketball player, but he’s an 18-year-old kid.”

A couple of weeks ago over lunch in Omaha, Nebraska, Kylia Carter so compellingly laid out the reasons for her son leaving after one season that I felt foolish for thinking there was actually a chance he might return to Duke. A week later, she told her son that she had reconsidered her position.

“After the season happened, and I started thinking about it. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. If you came back, it would only make you a better person,’ ” she said. “It would improve your quality of life. It would improve your relationships. It would be about you. It wouldn’t be about basketball. So this is really something to think about.

“Of course, as a mom, I started thinking about it, so I told him: I want you to come back.”

Wendell Jr. was stunned by the change of perspective, she said. “I know this has never been what I said, never been my thought, and it’s not because of the draft and NCAA. In fact, it doesn’t have nothing to do with basketball at all. It’s all about you.”

In an ideal world, Carter would return and be the leader on another Duke team loaded with prep All-Americans. He would benefit by assuming a leadership role.

“For me, it’s not just about being a leader, it’s all the intangibles of college life,” she said. “It’s everything: education, relationship building, confidence building, of course, leadership. But everything.”

I spoke with Carter’s father earlier this week. He has never wavered in his position. He thinks his son should leave Duke and begin his NBA career. Wendell Jr. was told that he was the apple of Duke’s eye, that he would be the focal point of the Duke offense.

But Duke brought in Marvin Bagley III, a 6-foot-11 center. Carter had to share the limelight, although by the end of the season the two had learned how to coexist.

The Carters should not have been surprised by Duke’s recruitment of Bagley after their son was supposedly told he’d be the focal point. They warned their son that when he chose Duke over Harvard, he was choosing the business of basketball over education. And in the big-time basketball business, anything goes.

While his wife says that another year in college would make her son a better leader, Wendell Sr. argues that with three new hotshot recruits coming to Duke next season, there is no telling what role Wendell Jr. will be asked to play.

“Why come back?” he said. “There are no guarantees.

“Go ahead and go get on-the-job training,” he added, referring to the NBA. “He’ll be a top-10 pick. Go.”

Duke lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight, and Carter fouled out in overtime. Carter had a solid but not exceptional performance in the loss. One motivation for returning to Duke is to lead the team to the Final Four.

“He thinks he has something to prove,” Wendell Sr. said. “I’m like, you really don’t.

“He was really disappointed, but I wanted him to take his emotion away. Now it’s a business, and he has to make a sound business decision.”

The decision is proving to be much harder than even his parents thought it would be.

“I think he’s having a tug with his heart and his mind,” Kylia Carter said.

The Carters think their son will make up his mind by the end of this week. In an odd way, they have been gratified by watching how Wendell Jr. has agonized over his decision.

“I think it’s good for him,” his mother said. “You make a decision and you’re going to live with it.”

Last year Wendell Jr. had to choose between Duke and Harvard. This spring, he has to choose between Duke or going to the NBA as a big-ticket lottery pick.

The Carters may disagree on the decision their son should make, but they agree on one thing: In the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty cool dilemma for a family to have.

William C. Rhoden, the former award-winning sports columnist for The New York Times and author of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves,” is a writer-at-large for The Undefeated. Contact him at william.rhoden@espn.com.