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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Portrait of Utah Jazz player DeMarre Carroll,Thursday, October 11, 2012.
Utah Jazz: DeMarre Carroll has been a man of the people while in Utah
First Published Jun 29 2013 04:20 pm • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:34 pm

Moab » He takes fans bowling and once spent a night off at a local high school basketball game. He freely engages using social media and has built a loyal Twitter community of nearly 20,000 followers.

But the Utah Jazz’s least inhibited free-agent-to-be has to draw a line somewhere, and DeMarre Carroll has just decided that when it comes to interaction, that line is placing a carrot stick in his mouth for the purpose of feeding a 4-year-old camel named Cramer.

At a glance

Utah Jazz free agents

Al Jefferson, center

Age » 28

Last season » 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, named Western Conference Player of the Week final week of March

2012-13 salary » $15 million

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 40 percent

Paul Millsap, power forward

Age » 28

Last season » Averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds

2012-13 salary » $7.2 million

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 10 percent

Mo Williams, point guard

Age » 30

Last season » Posted 12.9 points and 6.2 assists per game, missed 32 games due to right thumb surgery

2012-13 salary » $8.5 million

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 20 percent

Randy Foye, combo guard

Age » 29

Last season » Averaged 10.8 points, set team record in 3-pointers made and attempted

2012-13 salary » $2.5 million

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 80 percent

Jamaal Tinsley, point guard

Age » 35

Last season » Averaged 3.5 points and 4.4 assists in 18 minutes per game; went 20-12 as a starter

2012-13 salary » $1.3 million

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 70 percent

Earl Watson, point guard

Age » 34

Last season » Missed first 12 games due to offseason knee surgery, averaged 2 points and 4 assists

2012-13 salary » $2 million

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 10 percent

DeMarre Carroll, small forward

Age » 26

Last season » Averaged 6 points in 17 minutes per game, started 12 games

2012-13 salary » $885,000

Likelihood he returns to Utah » 80 percent

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"Free kiss for a carrot!" promises a sign in the fence at the Hole N" The Rock petting zoo 7 miles outside Moab. A young woman demonstrates. If she recognizes the 6-foot-8 Alabama native, his trademark dreadlocks brushing the shoulders of a white Jazz T-shirt, she doesn’t show it. She sticks the carrot between her teeth and giggles when the camel’s fuzzy upper lip scrapes her own. Carroll captures the moment on his iPhone and later will tweet the image. He tightens his lips, squints and contemplates for a moment. Finally, he says, "I ain’t doing that." He shakes his head, sighs and drops a carrot through the wire fence and onto a steel feeding tray.

The Jazz forward is visiting southeast Utah for the first time, despite the start of free agency just days away. In less than two years he has become a key member of the rotation and wildly popular among fans, despite being the team’s lowest-paid player. Now, as one of seven Jazz players whose contract expires at midnight Sunday, he is looking for his first big payday.

But first he is obligated to perform what may be his final duty as a member of the Jazz, a two-week tour of rural Utah for the Junior Jazz program. Carroll is, in some ways, the ideal representative. While many NBA players fulfill their community obligations then happily slip back into celebrity hiding, Carroll has helped bridge the gap between fans and the players with whom they are eager to have a relationship.

"He’s living in the moment," point guard Earl Watson says. "He’s taking in the opportunity to be in the NBA. He knows it’s a privilege, and he knows he has to work for it."

Jazz fans always have identified with the players of Utah’s one major professional sports franchise, but their players historically don’t identify so much with them. Carroll is different.

A fan favorite » At the petting zoo, Carroll stuffs carrots into the mouths of fallow deer, pygmy goats and a miniature donkey. He extends his arm and stands back as an ostrich jackhammers grain out of the bucket. He lobs orange chunks to rouse an albino raccoon sleeping in a dark corner.

At Hole N" The Rock, though, two camels are the real stars. After declining to feed Cramer, Carroll wanders over to a second pen and tosses a carrot past a sign that implores visitors not to feed a dromedary named Luke.

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"You can’t feed that one," hollers a man standing on a porch behind Cramer. His skin is desert leather, and his mustache is grayed. He wears a University of Arizona ballcap and a floral print shirt. He isn’t angry, but he is serious. Luke is on a diet. Carroll apologizes and makes his way to the exit. As he slips into the Expedition, the man yells once more, hurrying across the parking lot.

"I thought that was you," he says. "You’re one of my absolute favorite players on this team."

Carroll turns and smiles warily. The day before a fan in Price approached, oozed praise, then called him DeMonte.

The man continues. "I told my son, ‘Whenever there’s a loose ball, he’s the one who goes and gets it.’ You going to be back with us this year?"

"We’ll see," Carroll says.

The man is Erik Hanson, owner of the roadside attraction. "We saw the thing on TV," he says. "You know, we’re in the bowling game, too."

"What’s your score?" Carroll asks.

"Oh," Hanson says, "about 190."

Carroll, if impressed, says nothing. He has been bowling seriously for a year and hired a personal coach this summer. He talks often about earning a spot on the Professional Bowlers Association tour. His score hovers around 180.

"Do you mind?" Hanson asks, holding up his cellphone.

Carroll shakes his head and his dreadlocks quiver like wind chimes. He leans into Hanson and smiles for the photo.

Effort for sale » Despite having the best job of his life for the past year and a half, DeMarre Carroll will become unemployed Monday morning. Free agency brings trepidation with excitement for a player who started 12 games last season but sat on the bench for 16 others. Unlike teammates Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, Carroll does not appear on any lists of this summer’s hottest free agents.

What he does have is a very particular set of skills acquired in a career that started in Memphis, included a trip to the D-League and cast him in cameos on the rosters of the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets.

Since Kevin O’Connor signed Carroll in 2012, the former first-round draft choice has established himself as the Jazz’s go-to burst of energy, an unrestrained and hard-nosed defender, an enforcer who body-slammed Kevin Durant a month after the Oklahoma City star leveled a similar shot at Jazz guard Alec Burks.

"Some guys, they can’t get their motor up to that level," says his agent, Mark Bartelstein, who adds: "That’s the stuff I don’t know if we put enough of a value on in the league."

It can’t be found everywhere but, starting Monday, it can be bought.

Carroll returned home to Alabama after the season ended. He has visited Atlanta and Missouri and conducted clinics in Utah and Nevada. On Wednesday, he will head to Aruba with his girlfriend and wait. Says Carroll: "I’m gonna be chillin’ when my agent calls."

Bartelstein, who also represents Jazz free agents Watson and Mo Williams, predicts "a lot of interest" for Carroll. But Carroll has made no secret of his preference to stay in Utah. He calls executive vice president Kevin O’Connor "my guy" and credits the former general manager for salvaging his career.

Obstacles impeded Carroll’s path for years, as if the universe was trying to tell him to give up on the NBA. He transferred from Vanderbilt to Missouri midway through college, at least in part because his first college coach insisted on playing him at power forward. In 2007, he was shot in the ankle outside a Columbia, Mo., nightclub. Months later, he was diagnosed with liver disease. He eventually will require a transplant.

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