DeMarre Carroll remembers what it was like. Few believed in him. Fewer cared about him. His eyes were wide and his dreams were huge, but he might as well have been anonymous when it came to the NBA.
So now, when the game stops for the fourth-year Jazz small forward and real life settles in, Carroll doesn't hesitate to reach out.
Fan follow Tuesdays on Twitter. Self-made T-shirts branded with Carroll's trademarked "Hard work is a talent" logo. The promise of weekly bowling nights, during which Carroll plans to rent out a series of lanes and challenge his loyal believers to 10 frames.
Through three up-and-down seasons with four NBA teams, Carroll rarely has found consistency and seldom found a home. Now that Salt Lake City has hooked him, the ex-Missouri Tiger is doing everything within his power to be as real, true and down to earth as humanly possible.
"I was in [the fans'] shoes. I wanted to meet NBA guys, I wanted to interact with NBA guys. I just wanted them to reach out to me," said Carroll, who averaged 4.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 20 games (nine starts) with the Jazz during the 2011-12 season.
"I've got the opportunity to do it, and I feel like it's a good time to give back," Carroll said. "Especially after the blessing that happened to me last year, after the whole whirlwind."
Carroll quietly joined Utah in early February, signed for backup insurance when injury problems initially began to mount. He rarely moved off the Jazz's bench, though, going from Feb. 10 to March 18 without even clocking a minute. All the while, Carroll kept his cool. He joked about becoming the next Jeremy Lin, slowly began to form bonds with his new teammates, and gradually discovered the power of Utah's devoted fan base.
Once Carroll got a shot, he never looked back. Mixing tenacious, Tony Allen-like defense with a surprising outside touch, he combined everything he'd dealt with during unfulfilling stops in Memphis, Houston and Denver, and turned the frustration into power. Hustle, grit and resilience captured Carroll's gutsy play, and a Jazz fan favorite soon was born.
Ever since, Carroll has insisted on giving back.
When he's away from the hardwood, the 6-foot-8 small forward fires up his Twitter account (@DeMarreCarroll1). Whether it's an impromptu question about the best barbecue joint in the Salt Lake Valley or a confession the apartment he just rented doesn't allow dogs a problem when a new lessee possesses canines Carroll is all-access, all the time. He's more working-class hero than reality star, though, and the majority of his tweets are designed to include fans in a world he once only could dream of.
"It helps me be like, 'I'm one of them. I'm no better than them,' " Carroll said. "I might play the game of basketball and make a little bit of money, but I'm still no better than the people that are around town.
"I'm a normal guy, that's why I always go out. If a fan want[s] a picture or an autograph, I do it. Because I'm not that type of guy. My momma raised me right and she taught me to be a humble guy, and that's what I am."
But for all of his Twitter revelations, there's a question Carroll hasn't answered.
Can he roll?
"I've been practicing," Carroll said. "The other day, I bowled a 173. So I'm getting better."
And Jazz fans keep getting closer to their hard-working, lunch-bucket forward.
DeMarre Carroll file
Position • Small forward
Year • 4
Vitals • 6-foot-8, 212 pounds
2011-12 Stats • 4.5 pts, 2.2 reb, 0.8 ast
Career • 3 pts, 2 reb, 0.5 ast
Draft • No. 27 overall by Memphis in 2009
College • Missouri
Born • Birmingham, Ala.