“Walking down Grafton Street, I’d usually be the tallest person on the street,” says Carroll.
“My roommates in IMG, one was 6’10’’, another was 7ft and the other was 6’6’ so I never felt big while I was there. I was sixth tallest on my team.”
For two years, the IMG Academy in East Florida was his home. Having convinced his parents to let him pursue his basketball dreams across the Atlantic, he left Ireland for the US in 2011. His performances there attracted the attention of college scouts and since he began his preparatory year for third level last September at The Hill — a prestigious prep school in Pennsylvania — he has been scouted by 10 NCAA Division 1 college teams with the likes of Colgate, Hartford, Elon, Campbell and Maine showing interest.
Originally from Howth, Carroll’s dad Paul played basketball with Ireland, yet John’s nascent career only began when he was 12. A sporting all-rounder as a child, he first started shooting hoops with Kubs in North Dublin.
At secondary school, his playing time was limited to club action because there was no team at the Catholic University School (CUS) on Leeson Street.
Four years later Carroll’s talents earned him the school’s prestigious Ronnie Delany scholarship, an award normally the preserve of rugby and cricket players — current England international Eoin Morgan a previous winner.
Carroll’s €3,000 bursary was put to good use, helping fund a three-week high school basketball training camp at the IMG Academy. The coaches liked what they saw and offered him a scholarship. After two seasons in the US, Carroll had been transformed. Now standing tall he’s almost 16st of lean muscle. It’s a far cry from the scrawny 13st 6’5” frame that set foot on Florida’s gulf coast in 2011.
Making the next step, from IMG to college basketball, has required some extra help and luckily for Carroll, he’s been able to call on Paul Cummins, a former Irish international who followed a similar path.
The Kildare native finished secondary school early to play high school hoops in the States and the transatlantic move paid dividends when he was recruited by Lafayette College in 2003 — one of only a handful of Irish players to have played Division 1 US College basketball. Carroll is now based at University of Ulster, where he is completing his PhD.
Last August Cummins held his first Sport Dream Academy (SDA) Elite Invitational Camp, and Carroll was one of 35 talented young basketball stars to benefit from the intensive four-day camp at Gormanston College, Meath.
“There is no doubt in my mind that if John stays injury-free, and continues to work hard on the areas of his game that he needs to work, that he will play college hoops at a high level in the US,” says Cummins of Carroll, who was named MVP at his SDA camp in Gormanston.
After Carroll’s performance at the SDA Invitational, The Hill school came knocking. SDA provides highlights and software for each player to interact with scouts and coaches, helping them get noticed in what is an incredibly competitive environment. “It is an elite camp designed to develop key skills, bring in top coaching, and get top Irish players noticed globally — exactly the type of camp I wished I could have gone to at 16 or 17,” says Cummins, who has seen his protege make good on those gains at Gormanstown.
Given his sporting genes and the practical support of his mother, Lisa — she installed an outside light in the back yard so that John could practice late into the evening — it is perhaps no surprise that Carroll has come this far. As he prepares to make the jump to the next level, you sense his basketball adventure is just beginning.