Jaycee Carroll was one of the world’s best basketball players — even if you never watched him play

The Utah State great will have his number retired by the Aggies at the Spectrum on Saturday night.

(Darko Vojinovic | AP) Real Madrid's Jaycee Carroll gestures after a duel with Fenerbahce's Brad Wanamaker during their Final Four Euroleague final basketball match between Real Madrid and Fenerbahce in Belgrade, Serbia, on May 20, 2018.

Wellsville • The blue Bobcat tractor that serves as this ranch’s backbone is struggling. Temperatures around here have plummeted to -16 degrees over the past week. And at last, the machine that Jaycee Carroll cranks up before dawn each morning to plow snow has given in.

“It’s frozen,” Carroll says, knowing he just inherited another project.

On these 15 acres, there isn’t a single project that hasn’t been under his purview since he bought the land that existed as a concrete dump site and junkyard. The professional basketball player would come back to Cache Valley from Spain each summer and assume a different undertaking until he molded it to his vision, simultaneously building his career and future.

The first year, he beat his alarm every morning and placed irrigation pipes until the sun went down. Then, he went away and became the Spanish league’s top scorer.

The summer after, he returned to add fence posts until exhaustion. When he left for Spain again, he’d become the EuroLeague’s top scorer and a centerpiece of Real Madrid’s basketball juggernaut — one of the best players on one of the world’s best teams.

Each year, the cycle would continue. He added crops and chickens, EuroLeague titles and Spanish Cups. Then two years ago, Carroll built a home on the property for his family. When he finished, he decided he’d never go back to basketball.

(Daniel Ochoa de Olza | AP) Real's Jaycee Carroll drives the ball to the basket next to Olympiacos' Matt Lojeski during the Euroleague Final Four Championship basketball match between Real Madrid and Olympiacos in Madrid, Spain, Sunday, May 17, 2015.

And that brings us back to the busted Bobcat.

On this frigid February morning, Carroll sits in the warmth of his home, looking out through the floor-to-ceiling windows on his manicured heaven. He is living in the dream he meticulously built, but there is always a project, always something that needs fixing — and he acknowledges something has been gnawing at him: How will he be remembered?

On this morning, he is ready to explore those thoughts. The Bobcat can wait.

How Jaycee Carroll became one of the world’s best

Carroll’s 6-foot-2 frame, boosted slightly by a pair of black Air Jordans, moves through his garage and up to his office. There, the first thing that comes into view is his trophy case.

It is stacked with game balls and plaques: two Euro League trophies, five Spanish league titles, six Kings cups, the 2010 and 2011 top-scorer individual awards.

Slightly out of view sits a jersey from his time at Utah State, where he played from 2004-08 and became an All-American and the school’s all-time leading scorer. The jersey is the real reason why the questions about his playing days have popped up recently. His number is being retired by his alma mater this weekend — an honor that has prompted some reflection.

Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo USU's Jaycee Carroll. November 30, 2005.

“It’s funny, I speak at these corporate events sometimes and I start by saying I was one of the top 540 basketball players in the world,” he says. “I was one of the best shooters in the world. The NCAA just came out with the top 3-point shooters of the last decade, I was No. 1.”

He isn’t saying it to brag, but to underscore the point. He truly was all of that, a basketball star for an iconic club in one of the world’s great cities.

“If I did it here, it would have been Steph Curry and Klay Thompson numbers,” he says flatly.

Could he have made it in the NBA, though?

Carroll himself has wondered, but thoughts of what-ifs are quickly replaced by priceless memories. He spent his first professional season in Teramo, Italy, and would see Rome’s Spanish Steps and Coliseum with his wife, Baylee, on off days.

“The history becomes part of the scenery,” he says. “There is a McDonald’s right next to the Pantheon. You’d eat right there.”

If Big Macs weren’t enough, Carroll fondly recalls being served steak by the celebrity chef Salt Bae in Istanbul.

“We took a taxi over there and there was a mob of people on the street and nobody is getting in,” he says. “I got up to the front to try to see the wait. ... A waiter goes, ‘Oh Jaycee Carroll!’ And my wife and I passed the line and they gave us an awesome meal.”

In Europe, Carroll became a celebrity.

But in retirement, he has returned to Utah and to the NBA-obsessed United States, which might put his basketball accomplishments in a different context.

(Kevin Reynolds | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaycee Carroll's jerseys are hung up in a line at his home gym. One has a picture of NBA All-Star Luka Doncic pinned to it, his teammate for three years at Real Madrid.

In Carroll’s home now, his jerseys hang inside his personal gymnasium. A picture of him playing with Luka Doncic, then a teenager on the Real Madrid roster, is pinned to one of the uniforms. He just visited Doncic when the Mavericks played in Denver, caught up and took pictures with the NBA All-Star.

He has a lot of these stories. He played against Russell Westbrook when Real Madrid played the Thunder in a preseason game. Madrid won.

“We were better than some NBA teams,” Carroll says.

He wanted to play in the NBA, of course, but only bounced around in the summer league in 2008 and 2010. Carroll came out of college as an undersized shooting guard at the time before Curry had made that fashionable. Scouts asked him how he would guard Kobe Bryant, four inches taller.

“I’m convinced that if I came out after Steph, I would have gotten at least a two- or three-year contract,” Carroll says. “Look at Jimmer Fredette, he got three years.”

Curry and the Golden State Warriors for a time even ran a play stolen from Utah State’s playbook. What would Carroll have looked like running it himself on an NBA court?

“I could have maybe tried to go to more vet camps,” Carroll says.

(John Raoux | AP) Boston Celtics' Jaycee Carroll (41) gets the ball to a teammate past Philadelphia 76ers' Jodie Meeks (20) during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, July 6, 2010.

But ...

“I already had a really good situation in Spain,” he adds.

He will never really know if he would have made a roster or found a role. So rather than focus on the what-ifs, he prefers his reality.

“From where I sit, I’m happy,” he says.

He wants people to remember that.

What is Jaycee Carroll doing now?

Carroll’s home tour continues. He has left the office now and starts to walk around the rest of his house, which by design has few other basketball memories. This is his new life, he says.

He starts to point out the little things that bring him joy now.

Carroll motions to the desk where he has started his investment banking firm. The other night, he was on a call for eight hours working to help people to get their finances in order.

“It is really fulfilling, we work with people in a holistic way,” he says.

(Kevin Reynolds | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Utah State basketball star Jaycee Carroll works on his ranch in Wellsville. The Aggies are set to retire his No. 20 jersey on Saturday night.

The cheer pom-poms in the corner of the gym bring a smile to his face.

“My wife hosts over 150 girls on Mondays and Wednesdays for cheer practice,” he says. “It is her turn.”

Then he gets outside and he is more than pleased to talk about his ranch. It wasn’t his idea to live out here at first. It was his wife’s dream to live on 15 acres in Cache Valley.

But since building it, Carroll has fully embraced it. He rides the horses more than his wife does now and disappears on hunting trips with his son and father for days at a time. He trains the animals. After about a quarter-mile of walking, he walks up to the fence to get a calf he’s spent the last few months halter-breaking the cow and shows it off. The animal’s name is Felipe.

“After my teammate,” he grins. That would be Felipe Reyes, a captain at Real Madrid and member of the 2008 Spanish Olympic team that lost to the Redeem Team in Beijing.

As Carroll opens his shed where he houses saddles, a different energy comes over him. He starts rattling off how he is trying to raise Wagyu beef and perfect the animals’ feed. He is in the process of raising a herd of valley black sheep, normally only seen in Switzerland. He just planted 800 lavender plants.

“I love it out here,” he says. “I’m kinda corny, but I brought my son out here one time and told him we were watching a movie. It was just the sun setting on the mountain. But it is incredible.”

Building a life and legacy in Cache Valley

Carroll is walking back inside now. He has errands to run, things to do, a new, busy life to live. On the walk, he is asked whether any part of him throwing himself headfirst into the ranch to fill a void once taken up by basketball.

“I was obsessive about basketball,” he says. “Now I do this.”

And in doing all so, Carroll is continuing to build both his life and legacy back home in the valley where he got his first taste of basketball fame.

On Saturday night, Carroll will have his No. 20 jersey retired in a halftime ceremony during the Aggies’ home game against Nevada. It is something he and his dad have talked about for a while.

“Once I passed Greg Grant (who has his number retired) in scoring, he was like, ‘When are they going to put your jersey up there?’ Carroll says.

Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo USU's Jaycee Carroll. November 2, 2006.

The jersey, though, is only one part of it. He is still navigating how to reach out to a younger generation who might not know who he is. He plays pickup with local high school basketball teams about once a week in the offseason. He coaches his daughter’s travel team five nights a week.

Last year, he set up a scrimmage with one of the better high school teams in the area at the Spectrum to play some of his old teammates. Spencer Nelson, Gary Wilkinson and Spencer Butterfield prepared for three weeks in his personal gym for the game. Kris Clark, Carroll’s former point guard, flew in from New York for it.

“We brought back our old announcer and old trainer, Mike,” Carroll says. “It was fun. We kept real stats. Parents and the high school players came out to see it. ... We hope we do it every year.”

In Carroll’s office now, there is a drawing of him depicting his time at Utah State. It was made recently by a local high school student.

“I was away for 12 years,” he says. “The younger generation is just now starting to figure out who I am.”

There’s no doubt about his legacy — even if the project will take a little more time.