Many things had to happen before DeMarre Carroll once again became a fill-in starter for the Utah Jazz.
Before Marvin Williams went down with concussion-like symptoms last week in New Orleans, Carroll, the Jazz’s resident and self-proclaimed “junkyard dog,” endured a lifelong string of tragedies, maladies and misjudgments. But what Carroll believes defines him is the way he overcame those.
“When adversity hits you,” he said, “you got to try to push through it. And I think that’s what I do.”
Last month, sitting at his locker several rings deep inside Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, the Jazz’s affable, dreadlocked backup forward reflected on a recent stretch in which he did not play in five of the Jazz’s six games.
“This is probably the toughest thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Carroll, who is with his fourth team in four seasons.
It was a curious admission from a man whose brother died of a brain tumor, whose grandmothers died within three months of each other, who was diagnosed with liver failure before the 2009 draft and was shortly thereafter shot in the ankle following an altercation outside of a nightclub. But this game is Carroll’s livelihood, and as a pending free agent he knows the importance of taking advantage of his opportunities — and the need to have opportunities.
Carroll joined the Jazz midway through last season. He has so entrenched himself in the Salt Lake City community by corresponding with followers on Twitter and with his selfless play, that it’s easy to forget he’s played in only 34 games with the Jazz.
That night in Philadelphia, Nov. 16, Carroll shot a perfect 6-for-6 and scored 17 points in a Jazz loss, sending a message to coach Tyrone Corbin that he couldn’t be kept off the floor.
“He understood that hustle plays were going to get him on the floor,” Corbin said, “and once you’re on the floor, now you have an opportunity to build the things you’re working on.”
Jamaal Tinsley, the Jazz backup point guard who played with Carroll in Memphis and Carroll lists as one of his biggest influences, said, “This is the NBA. You’re going to go through a lot of things over your career, it’s just how you carry yourself and handle it.”
Since the Jazz loss to the 76ers, Carroll has played double-digit minutes in each of their 10 games. While Alec Burks, the popular second-year guard, has flitted in and out of the lineup, Carroll has become a mainstay thanks to his unique scrappy brand of play.
“I think [Corbin] is growing to trust me more every day,” Carroll said. “I just try to fill my role. If I just keep doing what I’m doing, it’s going to be hard to keep me off the court.”
On Monday, Corbin started Carroll for the third straight game in an eventual 105-104 loss, and he had an immediate impact, scrapping for an early offensive rebound that the Clippers appeared to have corralled. Later, in the fourth quarter, Corbin matched the 6-foot-8 Carroll up against Los Angeles point guard Chris Paul, in an effort to slow the All-NBA performer.
“DeMarre is a defensive-minded guy who wants to step up and take the challenge of playing the guys who’s going to have the ball in his hands,” Corbin said.
While Paul still managed to get to the rim and key the Clippers’ win, Carroll was as effective on the point guard as anyone. And, most importantly, he was on the floor.
Carroll has a theory on where his ability to persevere comes from.
“Some people are born with it,” he said. “Some people learn it. And some people have life experiences that force them to learn it. I feel like I had a combination of all three of them.”
• In 14 games this season Carroll averages a career-high 5.8 points per game.
• His assignments are varied, including guarding Chris Paul on Monday.
• He scored a career-high 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting Nov. 16 in Philadelphia.
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