Robert Carter Jr. seemed to be off the radar of most NBA scouts when he regained his eligibility last season at Maryland. He had sat out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, following two years at Georgia Tech.
Carter hoped to make a major impact with the Terps, though he quickly realized that sharing the spotlight with several teammates did not enhance his draft status so much.
Still, Carter decided after finishing his redshirt junior season that he was ready to turn pro and – unlike sophomore point guard Melo Trimble – released any safety net when he signed with an agent.
Though Maryland coach Mark Turgeon was admittedly surprised by Carter's decision to forego his senior year, the 6-8 ¾ power forward said last week that he thought the timing was right after graduating in May.
"I felt like played well enough, and the graduation thing, just being in college four years [played into the decision]," Carter said. "I didn't think it would help me or there'd be anything I would gain to by staying another year."
Carter will begin to find out Thursday whether it was a good decision or not, when the NBA Draft will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Along with center Diamond Stone and forward Jake Layman, Carter is one of three former Terps with a realistic chance to hear his name called as one of the 60 picks.
Though his name didn't appear on any mock drafts until the second half of last season, Carter seemed to solidify his status after his career in College Park had ended.
Carter, who scored in single digits in each of Maryland's three NCAA tournament games after averging close to 13 points during the regular season, was considered one of those who surprised NBA scouts and front office personnel during the NBA draft combine in Chicago in May.
An NBA scout familiar with one of Carter's workouts said he expects Carter to go "early in the second round."
Carter didn't think he did anything different than what he showed at Maryland, where he led the Terps in rebounding (6.9) and finished third behind Trimble and Stone in scoring (12.3) while shooting 55.4 percent from the field. Carter scored in double figures in 25 of 36 games.
"We had to sacrifice a lot last year at Maryland because of all the talent we had," Carter said. "It was kind of the same situation [in Chicago]. I was trying to make sure my team won. I wasn't surprised at all [how I performed at the Combine], because I did it all the time."
In helping his team win both of its games in Chicago, Carter averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds, shooting 13 of 23 from the field. He made two of his three 3-point attempts the first day, but missed both of his 3-point tries the second.
Both Carter and Jake Layman, who also participated at the NBA Combine, were complimented by ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla for playing fundamental, unselfish basketball in a setting dominated by guards.
Carter credits the two seasons he spent at Maryland for helping him with his basketball IQ.
"I think I got a lot sharper," he said. "I could get a little sloppy with my techniques and my form, and we definitely preached fundamentals, we learned how to do the fundamental things. It helped us playing with new guys."
What looked different in Chicago was Carter's upper body.
After trimming down to roughly 235 pounds at Maryland from the 250-plus he carried during his two seasons at Georgia Tech, Carter said he put on about "seven or eight pounds" since he left school in order to have more bulk defending in the low post.
"Nobody advised me, it was just getting a comfortable feeling of guarding bigger guys, but not too heavy to guard smaller guys," Carter said. "When I was 235, I felt like I couldn't bang as much as I wanted to. I'm still in the process of finding that great weight."
Carter said he is happy with the way he has performed at the various NBA workouts, and that his game of taking defenders out on the perimeter has continued as he has tried out for various teams. Carter said he has worked out for roughly a dozen teams.
"I've been shooting really well," Carter said. "I'm always going to shoot the ball [from the perimeter]. It's definitely a confidence boost to shoot [well], but I've been hitting the shots I normally make. It definitely opens the floor, guys have to adjust. I always feel with my versatility, if it's not [falling] early, I can always do something else to help my team."
Aside from not being able to celebrate his 22nd birthday by winning a national championship on April 4, the only major regret Carter had from his two years at Maryland was something outside of his control.
"I wish I could have [also] played on the team before me, with Dez [Wells] and Richaud [Pack]," Carter said of the 2014-15 Maryland team that finished 28-7 and 14-4 in its first season in the Big Ten. Carter practiced with that team but was ineligible for games.
Layman, who had considered leaving Maryland after his junior year, said it's difficult to choose when to leave school, but believes Carter put himself in position to succeed professionally.
"It's a very tough decision, it's definitely not a quick decision at all," Layman said last week. "He definitely put some time into it. He definitely got some opinions from people around the league. For me, I wasn't surprised. I think Rob's ready for the next stage, just like I am."
While his name has only been mentioned as a mid- to late second-round pick – NBA DraftExpress has him going No. 46 to the Dallas Mavericks while NBADraft.Net has him going undrafted – Carter wouldn't be surprised to hear his name called earlier than most expect.
"According to the teams and my agent, my stock really went up to late in the first round to early in the second round."