By Pat Harty
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Bettendorf junior D.J. Carton is exactly what the Iowa men’s basketball team needs as an explosive point guard who can score, distribute and pressure the ball on defense.
I reached that conclusion after watching the 6-foot-1 lefty score 24 points during a lopsided victory over Cedar Rapids Washington on Thursday.
Carton showed a nice touch from 3-point range and routinely blew past multiple defenders to get to the basket.
He is bigger and thicker than I previously thought, which helps him absorb contact while driving to the basket.
And his stock continues to grow as evidenced by some of the faces in the crowd on Thursday.
Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft and Minnesota assistant Ed Conroy both were in Cedar Rapids on Thursday to watch Carton play.
“It does show me that they care just by taking their time to come and watch me,” Carton said. “I really appreciate it.”
There were no members from the Iowa coaching staff at Thursday’s game, but Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has offered Carton a scholarship.
“Iowa has been very involved,” said Bettendorf head coach Curtis Clark.
Iowa doesn't really have a true point guard on its current roster. Sophomore Jordan Bohannon starts at point guard for the Hawkeyes and made the Big Ten All-Freshmen team last season. But the 6-0 Bohannon is more of a shooting guard whose greatest strength is his ability to make long-range shots.
It’ll take a school being heavily involved to land Carton because more and more schools are starting to take notice of his skills. Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan are now actively recruiting Carton and the list is likely to keep growing.
“It’s been real busy and it’s continued,” Clark said of Carton's recruitment. “There has been a little bit more interest from the Big Ten schools that haven’t offered yet that are getting a little more involved.
“With some of the coaching changes, they’re getting in a little bit later in the game. But I think it’ll just continue to rise with some of the recruiting.”
Carton said Thursday that he isn’t close to making a decision or ready to trim his list of schools. His primary concern for now is just trying to help Bettendorf win games.
He said there is pressure to attend Iowa and he already has a connection to the Iowa program with his grandfather, Gene Meeker, having played basketball for Iowa in the late 1950s. Gene Meeker also attended Thursday’s game.
“I have a lot of teachers at my school wanting me to go to Iowa and things like that,” Carton said. “So there is definitely a lot of Iowa supporters at our school and things like that. They always tell me to keep it in mind.
“So I definitely hear that a lot. Iowa is a real good school and I’m close with them, so we’ll see.”
Bettendorf graduate Nicholas Baer is a junior on the Iowa team and the Big Ten’s reigning Sixth-Man of the Year. He is also somebody who Carton admires and looks up to.
“I haven’t talked to him in a while, but he’s really proud of me and the player I’ve become today,” Carton said of Baer. “Just looking up to him growing up and watching him play means a lot to me.”
There were reports early on that Wisconsin was the team to beat for Carton, but some of the people close to him said Thursday that they were unaware of any particular school being in the lead.
However, the Badgers were one of the first schools to offer Carton a scholarship and they think enough of him to have had an assistant coach present on Thursday.
That certainly made an impression on Carton and on his relatives, including his grandfather.
Carton still has almost a year before he could sign a national letter of intent as a high school senior. His recruitment still is very fluid as more schools are likely to offer him a scholarship.
Iowa has some advantages that other schools can’t match. But the other schools, namely Wisconsin and Minnesota, aren’t ready to concede anything.