Late at night, Eli Carter felt normal.
The jump shots and ballhandling drills with teammates Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill this summer were a physical reminder of the progress made. Carter could do everything he used to, before the redshirt junior’s career was changed February 16, 2013.
While still at Rutgers, Carter slashed to the basket in the opening minutes of the second half against DePaul. The end result was far worse than the foul call. Carter fractured his fibula, missing the rest of the 2012-13 campaign.
He transferred to Florida the following year, with much anticipation and the belief the injury was behind him.
Only it wasn’t.
Carter would only play 53 minutes in seven games last season, sitting out the rest of the year to rehab his leg. His only points came in the season opener against North Florida; a three-pointer with 11:39 left in the second half.
Florida would go on to an undefeated SEC regular season, an SEC Tournament Championship and the Final Four, all while Carter was sidelined, watching his teammates play.
“Making it to the Final Four, obviously I wasn’t going to be out there,” Carter said. “But I was happy for them. But I would say that was the lowest point.”
During his time away from the game, Carter had the support of family and teammates, as well as staff members such as team athletic trainer Duke Werner. Carter also received encouraging words from longtime friend and current Cleveland Cavalier, Kyrie Irving.
“Just stay focused, stick with the process,” Carter said. “God has a plan for everything.”
After much time away from team workouts, Carter returned to practice Monday. Over the summer, the guard worked out with strength and conditioning coordinator Preston Greene as he prepared for the new season. Fully healthy, Carter is ready to contribute to the Gators.
“I kind of knew where I was last year, it’s been a long process, pretty — 100% now,” Carter said. “Lot of the explosiveness has come back so it’s been pretty uplifting.”
While there was an excitement to get back onto the court, the guard said the goal is to learn and get better while remaining healthy. There hasn’t been a specific role set for Carter, but he wants to be there for his teammates. During DeVon Walker’s rehab from a torn ACL, Carter has been one of the players supporting the injured forward.
“I mean the whole team’s pretty good at that,” Carter said. “We all uplift each other. I’ve given him a couple words. He’s pretty good with that, he’s keeping his hopes high.”
Carter’s support also extends the new additions to the team, transfer players Jon Horford and John Egbunu. Having been through what Horford and Egbunu have gone through, Carter looks to share his experience as well as assist them with the team’s offensive and defensive schemes.
Eli Carter’s return to normalcy arrived during the late night summer workouts, but the path he took while getting there served as a teaching tool to where he is going forward.
“Being injured for a whole year, year and a half really humbled me,” he said. “It let me know how not to take the basketball for granted, so it’s been really good. Brought me closer to my teammates and my coaches.”