2015 NBA Draft Features More Than Top Hogs from Arkansas



Visit Evin's Author PageBobby Portis and Michael Qualls are the two most prominent Razorbacks who for months have been trying to impress NBA brass in advance of the 2015 NBA draft. But some lesser known University of Arkansas students also hope the annual event furthers their basketball careers. One of them doesn’t even play the game.

Meet Johnny Carver, a 19-year-old business management major who is likely the nation’s youngest NBA consultant. Since late May, he’s been gathering data and number crunching for the advanced statistics department of an NBA team. Unpaid, full-time research projects come naturally for Carver, who on advice from Mark Cuban self-published a 334-page tome on the greatest NBA players in history. For it, Carver and colleagues devised their own 19-variable formula for “greatness” and from it determined a ranking of the top 25 NBA players ever.

Carver says Ranketology, and the unique, one-a-kind algorithms underpinning the book’s premise, have impressed executives from many NBA teams including Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers and Indiana Pacers. Larry Bird, now the Pacers’ director of basketball operations, was so intrigued by the work he invited Carver to Indianapolis to meet Indiana’s advanced statistics team.

Carver has come a long way from the serious health issues which waylaid his basketball career growing up in the Kansas City area. And he still has a long way left to reach his dream of working in the front office of an NBA franchise. But he relishes the climb: “I’m not Harvard smart, so hopefully if I work harder than everyone else then I can rise up the ranks.”

I recently sat down with Carver to discuss the Arkansan side of his most unique journey. The following Q & A is condensed and edited:  

Q: How important was basketball to you growing up?

A: Basketball’s been my entire life. It’s been everything for me. My dad played at Kansas State and before that he played at a Five-Star Camp with Michael Jordan and with Patrick Ewing and all those guys. When I was little, I used to look at these little brochures that he had, the players that he played with in high school. He has this story about how he blocked Michael Jordan.

Q: Oh really?

A: Yeah, he’s really proud of that. He doesn’t talk about how Michael Jordan scored 40 on him right after that… So, my brother ended up also playing at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School and he broke a lot of my dad’s scoring records. I really wanted to follow in their footsteps.

The problem was I had so many health issues to deal with [ulcerative colitis, adrenal insufficiency and autonomic dysfunction] and I was in a lot of pain. I tried to play in high school the best I could, but I had to quit playing the game after my junior year.

Q: How hard did it get to play toward the end?

A: By the end of the season, I had played the entire season, and I didn’t miss a single game. I was hospitalized 3 or 4 times during the season. One time with a issue with my blood pressure and my heart rate, I was having abnormal heart palpitations. Toward the end of the season they put me in intensive care.

I was of the mindset I’d stay in the hospital one night, and then I’d come to practice the next and I wouldn’t tell anybody. I just wanted to play. I wanted to make sure I could get out there on the floor and give everything I had no matter what. There were some games I couldn’t see. The final game I ever played in high school, I couldn’t see my man. My vision was so blurry from high blood pressure. I had to use the shoelaces to know who I was guarding. He had orange shoelaces, I remember. I knew, “Okay, this is my man.” I had to look down at his feet.

Q: You obviously have been able to find another outlet for your serious dedication to the game, but what about being a fan? Were you able to attend Razorback games this past season?

A: I attended all the home games, definitely.

Q: Bobby Portis is projected to go anywhere from No. 10 to 20 in the draft. How do you think he will project as an NBA player?

A: I think he’s the kind of guy who will stay in the league for a long time. The biggest thing, for me, is I think he’s done so much for Arkansas basketball, really revived the program.

Portis is a great leader, which I noticed being in the front row for a lot of his games. I could hear him talking defense over the student section, over the crowd. I could hear him instructing, you know, “Ball, ball, ball – deny. Go out and get him!”

He talked on defense quite a bit and was very motivational to his teammates. Seeing that kind of a leader out of a guy that’s a sophomore is interesting … He plays with a fire and energy that I think is awesome.

Q: What are your thoughts on Michael Qualls [who tore his right ACL during a June 14th workout in Phoenix]?

A: I feel really bad for his situation. I know he has a kid that he’s trying to take care of, but that he could have definitely used another year at Arkansas. It’s tough to see a guy that’s trying to help his family and help himself and do what he needs to do to survive, and then it’s just not working out right now.

I hope he gets an opportunity somewhere. Because he seems like a good guy. He’s got so much potential and so much to offer.

Q: Since you’re in the business college, are you in class with some Razorback players?  

A: Oh yeah. I’m kind of friends with Dusty Hannahs, who transferred in from Texas Tech. He and I were partners in a lot of projects in Finite Mathematics. I text him from time to time and stuff. I love Dusty – he’s a really, really nice guy and I like the way he plays, too. It’s just kind of cool to talk to some of these guys.

Q: Who else in the program do you know?

A:  I reached out to Scotty Thurman last fall. I gave him a copy of my book, told him who I was and said I wanted to get involved any way I could. He’s kept me kind of connected and he’s been a good contact.

I am looking into the possibility of being a team manager for the Hogs. That’s something most all the NBA folks suggested pursuing if I want to one day work in basketball operations.

Q: What can you tell me about the work you’re doing from home for the NBA team?

A: I’m not allowed to talk about specifics at this point, but I will say it involves gathering a lot of info on players and helping scouts figure out different stuff … I want to examine the worst thing anybody can say about a prospect and try to disprove that. If somebody says a certain prospect can’t play defense, well, I want to go find film of him online and look into that specific question.

It’s hard to evaluate potential on statistics, which so much depend on the competition level. For instance, you get the guys from Europe like Mario Hezonja who’s playing 15 minutes a game for FC Barcelona. His numbers are going to be lower, but he’s playing better competition than a guy like Karl-Anthony Towns.

The competitive imbalance is just so much. There’s no perfect science to evaluating recruits. It’s something I need to know a hell of a lot more than I already do.

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Learn about other new angles involving Razorback basketball at Evin Demirel’s blog. 

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