CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Sampson Carter’s passport has received a workout since the forward left the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Basketball has taken the 28-year-old Baton Rouge, La., native to Slovakia, Portugal, Dominican Republic, the NBA, Dubai, Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia and back to Mexico for the playoffs last year.
“I’ve played in over eight countries and visited over 15 countries,” he said.
Now, he can add Canada to the list, as he will start tonight for the Island Storm as it begins the National Basketball League (NBL) of Canada season against the Cape Breton Highlanders at 7 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre.
“I was looking for a place where . . . I didn't have to worry about going somewhere (to) prove myself. I wanted to go somewhere where a team was more so interested in me,” Carter said.
He found that in Charlottetown where Storm bench boss Tim Kendrick connected with him and his agent during the off-season. Kendrick knows people in Memphis, where Carter won a high school state championship in 2008 and earned a full scholarship to UMASS. He fit the bill with what the team was looking to add, and Carter quickly found a synergy with the coach.
“Once you’re connected on that level it’s deeper than basketball,” Carter said regarding his relationship with Kendrick. “I think coach really cares about me, I really care about coach and I think it’s going to be a great year.”
International leagues bring a number of challenges for American players, as leagues limit the amount of import players, and there are style changes and language and culture barriers to overcome.
“I’m able to really come here and work on my game,” Carter said. “This is going to be a great opportunity because I am playing with other fellow Americans and it’s going to be easier just to communicate – no language barriers – and just live.”
One thing that stands out from Carter’s resumé is a short stint with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. He was invited to work out with the team and impressed. He played in six pre-season games and dressed for a couple of more, but with the team limited to the number of contracts it could carry, Carter was cut.
Carter said he had a couple of big games, including hitting game-winning free throws against Houston and contributing two steals and a block late against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers.
“My stint with the Memphis Grizzlies doesn't really dictate who I am as a player,” he said, noting being cut was a business decision.
“It motivated me,” he added. “I’m here in the NBL just to kind of prove myself again and get back to where I want to be.”
Kendrick said Carter’s skill set and size were the initial attractions and when the character checks came back glowing, the team was excited to get him inked to a contract.
“He’s going to be one of our top guys,” the second-year Storm head coach said. “He’s really taken a real leadership role here as well already. A lot of guys have a lot of respect for where he’s been and also because of the kind of character he’s exhibited already.”
The six-foot-eight, 230-pound forward considers himself a stretch four with versatility being the first word he uses to describe himself.
“I can shoot it, I can put it on the floor, I stretch the floor out, which makes it difficult for teams to guard,” he said. “I can create for other players around me, and I’m just a good team player.”
The Storm will start the season without centre Carl Hall, who is finishing his season in Mexico and is not expected in Charlottetown until the first two weeks of December. Until he arrives, Carter will likely see some minutes guarding other team’s biggest players.
“He can do a lot of things for us,” Kendrick said, noting he can guard three positions on the floor. “He can certainly help fill that big guy role a little bit if we can get some pieces around him.”
Carter said the team’s size isn’t lost on the players wearing the uniforms.
“We’ve heard that we’re one of the smaller teams in the league right now,” Carter said. “That’s just been motivating the guys thus far because we feel like we’re a really good team, but we have a lot to prove.”
Kendrick said forward Dominic Shuler would have his ankle checked out late Thursday and there was a possibility he would play tonight.
Carter said he and his teammates are raring to get on the Eastlink Centre court for the first time and play for the local fans.
“We have some high energy guys. Everybody is really excited to get out there and show what they can do,” he said.
Need to know
A look at the Island Storm as it prepares to open the 2018-19 National Basketball League of Canada season.
History – The Storm has played seven seasons in the league and has a 109-119 regular season record and 23-27 playoff record.
Sampson Carter said: “I’m really excited to take to the court with my brothers and get the season going.”
First five games – A look at the Island Storm’s first five regular season games before it leaves for a four-game road trip to St. John’s, N.L., and Ontario.
7 p.m. – Cape Breton Highlanders at Island Storm.
2 p.m. – Saint John Riptide at Island Storm.
Thursday, Nov. 29
7 p.m. – Kitchener-Waterloo Titans at Island Storm.
Saturday, Dec. 1
7 p.m. – London Lightning at Island Storm.
Saturday, Dec. 8
7 p.m. – Cape Breton Highlanders at Island Storm.
Season – The NBL is going without divisions for the regular season but will revert back to the same format as last year for the playoffs with St. John’s joining the Ontario teams and the Maritimes playing in their own conference.