By Kevin Wilson
When Chris Carter spends his school days at Portales High School, he makes every attempt not to wear his Amateur Athletic Union shirt, which shares the Wildcat name with rivals Clovis and Lovington.
“Wildcats, huh?” is the comment the PHS junior-to-be said he hears most often.
During the summer, however, he splits duties between being a Ram and a Wildcat — a New Mexico Wildcat, that is.
Carter is part of the Wildcats, the 16-and-under state champion AAU squad. The Wildcats, with help from Carter, clinched a spot in July’s national tournament in Orlando. Carter has been a member of the squad since it was an 11-and-under team that won the 1999 AAU national title.
Wildcats coach Jerry Loya liked what he saw from Carter at age 11, and nothing’s changed since.
“I liked the way he played,” Loya said. “He was a team player and that’s what we have.
“He helps the team with his hustle. He’s got to be the kid who hustles more than any I’ve ever coached,” said Loya, who once coached former Ram great Dathan Culpepper.
This is the fourth time Carter and a field of teammates from Clovis have gone to a national tournament.
By the time Carter returns to high school classes, he’ll have played in more than 80 games between AAU and summer league for the Portales Rams. It’s a grueling schedule, but the 6-foot, 180-pound guard welcomes the challenge.
“It’s pretty much fun,” said Carter, the son of Darrell and Rosalee Carter. “It’s something I love.
“It’s kind of like a job. It kind of gives me strength knowing I’m going to get up and play all day.”
The schedule doesn’t bother Portales boys coach Mark Gallegos either. Neither Carter nor Gallegos can remember a schedule conflict resulting from his twin loyalties — and Gallegos’ only request of Carter is that he rest in July to get ready for football season.
“The thing with Chris is he always puts us first,” Gallegos said. “I want the kids to play as much as we can. Our schedule has always worked out because AAU tournaments fall on other weekends.”
The Rams are going to Las Vegas this weekend to play in team camps, and they will stay home the following week for team camps at Eastern New Mexico University. The Rams went 7-0 at May’s Mid-America Youth Basketball tournament in Roswell, and Carter hopes the summer play is indicative of a Ram team that could overcome its inexperience at the varsity level and compete in Class 3A.
“I think we have the possibility of being better than we were last year. I think we’re going to be a lot quicker,” Carter said. “I think our disadvantage is our height, but we make up for it with our quickness and every one of our starting five can shoot from anywhere.”
As for his AAU team, Carter says it’s a different story. The Wildcats could very well win a national championship, and they’d do so without a minute of practice. In fact, Carter says the team has only practiced once since he was 11 — that the Wildcats are a group that succeeds by instinct and team chemisty rather than repetition.
“If they go zone (defense), we just send someone (to the) high post,” Carter said. “If they go man, we just screen away, pass and cut. We don’t have a lot of plays.”
The team has a good amount of size with Tig Bunton and speed with players like Carter. Justin Pinckney, a senior-to-be at Clovis High School, was part of the 1999 title team with Carter.
“Chris brings energy to our team,” Pinckney said.” He goes out there, plays hard, hustles and make plays.”
The team would like to claim another championship before they break up, but Pinckney said nothing comes easy at the national tournament.
“It’s something we all really want,” Pinckney said. “We all love playing basketball. I think it will be tough. There will be a lot of good teams, but there’s a chance.”
Especially with players like Carter in the mix, according to Loya.
“He never gives up and he’s a very intelligent player,” Loya said. “He’d rather have 10 assists than 30 points. A lot of kids aren’t coachable. Chris is totally the opposite. He’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win.”