VC: Just a love for the game. I still love playing — still love to travel. The ups and downs of the game is something that hasn’t gotten old yet.
DTH: What part of playing for Dean Smith and spending three years at North Carolina helped you prepare for the league and for being in the league for 21 years?
VC: Just learning how to play the game. I learned the basics in how the game should be played. And after that, it was just easy to stick around, because the game just came to me so naturally. I just put my knowledge of the game with my abilities, and I was able to take off and hit the ground running once I got to the NBA.
As I moved through my career and started to get older, maybe wasn’t dunking it and jumping as high as I was, I still could rely on the rest of my game. And that’s been essential — just knowing how to play the game. And that’s what’s helped me survive through this point, because you have a lot of young guys that are playing right now. That’s how I can survive, because I just know how the game should be played. It’s all about angles to me, pretty much. I attribute that to my learning from Coach Smith.
DTH: Was there anything in particular that Coach Smith taught you or something that sticks out from his coaching, from his lessons, that you attribute to that?
VC: Nah, it’s not really one thing. There’s so many aspects of the game and to the game that are essential and important to learn, so I kinda just took pride in that — particularly as I’m older. For the average young guy in the league now learning the game, that’s how I can survive, just trying to outsmart them and play the angles until I can’t do that anymore and these guys figure it out. Then I’m in trouble.
DTH: Now, obviously, a lot of guys get to the league and aren’t ready for the drastic changes that come with being in the NBA — you might move from team to team, you might get traded. Before your junior year at UNC, Coach Smith retired and you played for Coach Guthridge. How do you think that kinda helped you immediately get prepared for the drastic changes that the NBA brought?
VC: It’s kinda different. It’s a business when you get here. You can’t prepare for that, to be honest with you. You get here; you can talk to guys, former players that you know that played in the NBA. You can never prepare for that, because everybody handles the business side of it differently. The emotions take over. And some people are like, “All right, it is what it is. Wherever I play is wherever I play.” And some people are attached to a team, coach, players, (to) where you move on and you’re sensitive about it, and the emotional side takes over and you tend to not be able to perform at a high level.
So, it’s just so many different things. When Coach (Smith) retired, it was just kinda one of those things like, he was just ready to go. It didn’t have any politics involved, you know? Like it wasn’t a money issue with the organization. It was more so like, our great leader, who we all believed in, loved and followed in and trusted in, was stepping down. And before he kinda said, “Yes, Coach Guthridge is gonna take the reins from here,” it was just like, “What is going in?” Like, “What is going on?” And obviously, hearing “Coach Guthridge is going to take the job” put us all at ease. But, it’s tough to compare it to. It really is.
DTH: What was it like for you — whether it was four years ago or five years ago — when you kinda transitioned from your previous role to being a mentor to young guys like Justin Jackson, when you were in Sacramento, or Trae Young in Atlanta?
VC: It was easy. Even 10 years, 12 years back, being a younger guy, I always felt like the new guy on the team would come in and I made it my business to go out and just help them understand the game. And that was kind of how I approached the game. It was just making sure my teammates were comfortable. I always wanted to make the game easier for my guys if I could. I didn’t have a problem with handling or doing the bulk of the work to make the game easy for everyone else.
As I grew up, in my first couple of years, I just asked a lot of questions to learn. So, I was always prepared and understood how the game was played, for one. But then, I understood how the other side of it — the business side of the game — worked and how to prepare. And, obviously, going through the ups and downs and being a star in the league to just being another player — a role player — and just being around for so long, it was just a natural transition more so than anything. Like I said, it’s not something that I had to kinda work on.
When you’re around long enough, it’s like, “Damn. Hey, I’ve seen that before, so let me tell you about it. Let me tell you how I’ve handled it. Let me tell you how I’ve seen other guys handle it that are stars that I’ve played with.” So, it was kind of really easy for me.
DTH: Justin Jackson is an obvious name that comes to mind, but are there other younger UNC guys that you’ve kinda taken under your wing?
VC: All of them. Every time we play them or I see them, I reach out to them and I tell them, “I’m always available.” I’m always available to talk and just (have) a conversation. And when guys just need to get their frustrations out, I’m always available. So, it doesn’t really matter who. I’m like that for a lot of guys, even guys that did not wear the Carolina uniform, to be honest with you.
Being in the NBA for so long and having older players help me that weren’t my teammates or didn’t go to Carolina made it easy for me to be that way. Because it is a brotherhood, regardless. I wanna beat the next player, just like anyone else. But at the same time, I’m comfortable with my game to where I can go help the next young guy if they need to talk, if they have questions, if they even want to work out in the summer. Like that’s just who I am, who I’ve been.
DTH: I know a lot of former players will come back to Chapel Hill, whether it be for the UNC alumni game or just to hang out and take in a game. How often are you back here?
VC: It just depends. I tried to make it to the game and the outing they had last summer, but I had just signed with the (Hawks) last year right during that time. So, I missed out. So, I plan on being around this summer when they have all the festivities. Being a dad, as well, it’s just tough. My daughter, she’s a volleyball player, and she’s on a traveling squad, so it’s kinda tough. Once the season’s over, I put all of my attention — as much of my attention as possible — to her and her athletics and to help her grow, just like I want to do with the young guys in the league. I want to do (that) with her, as well.
DTH: Is there a moment when you have been back that sticks out to you and allows you to reminisce on your playing days here in Chapel Hill?
VC: Just my experience, in general. I have a great appreciation for it. I watch them play as much as I can. I don’t care if (I’m) playing a game, I’m always checking up on the score. So, when I come back to town, it just brings back fond memories of my time here. And just seeing the growth of the campus and the school, how it’s changed over the years ... So, when I go on campus, it’s nothing but just great energy.
DTH: I read online that when Justin Jackson was drafted (No. 15 overall to the Sacramento Kings in 2017) and you signed with that same team, he sent you a text message that kinda made you feel old. Can you tell me about that?
VC: Man, he hit me with, “Hey, can’t wait to work with you, Mr. Carter.” Like, wait, don’t ever. Don’t ever. Nah, he’s a good guy, man. Once I got there, I was like, “What’s up? This is Vince, man. Don’t ‘Mr. Carter’ me.” Don’t make me older than I am.
DTH: Can you talk to me about you and Justin Jackson’s relationship that season and even now, what was that mentorship like?
VC: I mean, it was cool. Justin is an extremely hard worker. He loves the game. Obviously, (he’s) well-coached. He was easy. He understood what it took, and he was just trying to make a name for himself and his game. And even when he had the tough times when he wasn’t playing much, it was even easier, obviously, to be there for him, because we were there every day, worked together, we laughed and joked, the whole nine.
I still talk to Justin to this day. We even text back and forth, just to kind of keep up. He’s a great guy. I’m all for young guys who want to get better, who ask questions. I mean, I can recall sometimes when we were on the road, we’ll just sit in the room and talk to two, three in the morning just about the game and what he wants to accomplish and expectations and how to go about it. And it’s just being an outlet for him, so it was great for me to kinda see him grow and kinda just break out his shell and play such good basketball when he got those opportunities. So, he definitely will be around for a long time because of his ability to, obviously, shoot and play and slash, but he also defends. We still keep in touch to this day, quite frequently.
DTH: After you left Carolina, you still continued to take courses, and you even went back for your graduation ceremony on the same day of your 2001 Game 7 Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers (when you played for the Toronto Raptors). What made you want to go back before such a big playoff game?
VC: It was mostly, to be honest with you, my loyalty to my education. I come from a family of educators. Everybody, pretty much, in my family are educators of some sort — school teachers, principals, something in the education field. So, it was important to me to finish my education.
It was something important to Coach Smith. When he brought us in, he always talked about he wanted us to get our degree and graduate and how important it was. And he made sure that was important to us. So, that was kinda my responsibility in something that I wanted to do for myself. Outside of representing, obviously, the University of North Carolina, representing the Toronto Raptors at that time, it was something that was No. 1 on my list, regardless of the magnitude of the game. That was important — education first. I was brought up, (like), “You’re a student-athlete, not an athlete-student.” It didn’t change just because I was in the NBA.
DTH: What are your thoughts on this year’s Tar Heel team?
VC: Very resilient group. A young group that kinda just were finding their way early. It’s like the typical Carolina team — hit their stride second part of the season, going into the ACC Tournament. So, like I said, I’m very impressed with how Coach (Roy Williams) has kept the guys together. The seniors on there — Cam (Johnson) and Luke (Maye) — have been playing outstanding as seniors. Coby (White), as a freshman, is very poised and under control.
Coach Williams tends to recruit some very smart guys and guys who just understand the game at a young age. And it’s easy to mold those guys who are willing guys and very coachable. Not that other guys around the country aren’t coachable, but when you bring in a lot of young guys, sometimes if you put a lot on them as freshman, they get erratic and whatever. But these guys — you can just see the growth over the season. And it’s been fun to watch.
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