Confetti fluttered down from the rafters as former Creighton player Justin Carter, with a gold medal hanging from his neck, stood on a podium with his Italian club teammates.
The sport doesn’t often grant you that kind of moment — especially not for a grinder like Carter, 10 years into a pro career that started tenuously with a Facebook message and has since sent him to at least 10 countries.
So he made sure to savor that championship scene last May.
And he’s still savoring it. Even now that he’s found a new home — Carter signed with Roanne and will compete in France’s top league this winter.
“Man, it was just so surreal,” Carter said by phone from France.
In a general sense, his story parallels that of many ex-NCAA standouts. Creighton has 15 former players on rosters overseas, with at least five other ex-Bluejays pursuing deals.
But Carter has been at this for a while. Aside from NBA vets Kyle Korver and Anthony Tolliver, Carter is thought to be the oldest former Jay still playing.
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“Justin’s had an incredible career,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, who had Carter back on campus to work out and speak with current players the past several seasons. “To see how much better he’s gotten? It’s fun to see.”
The 32-year-old is not certain he saw this coming, though. He’d set long-term goals, but in actuality, he just wanted a chance to keep proving himself.
During his two years at Creighton, Carter was probably the player who most often showed off his athleticism when he rose to grab a board — he did have that 15-rebound game against Kentucky in the 2009 NIT. But the highlights he has authored as a pro, where he soars past a defender to rattle the rim with a titanic dunk, weren’t exactly part of his regular repertoire when he played forward and averaged 8.8 points in 66 games at Creighton.
Plus, he can still remember that summer right after his college career ended, when he tried to reach out, to network and market himself.
But he ended up without any options. He was about to leave town. Then an agent Facebooked him.
“I didn’t have anything going,” Carter said. “My dreams were kind of fading away — because, to me, it was getting late. But I took the opportunity. And I made it happen.”
First came a deal in Slovakia. Then Turkey. Carter said he took pay cuts. He took chances. There were nights when he and his wife would watch top-flight European basketball on their hotel room TV — they’d ponder the possibilities without much clarity of where the next stop would be.
“It’s been a journey, for sure,” Carter said.
That’s why last spring’s triumph meant so much.
He was coming off a meniscus tear before signing with Dinamo Sassari, but he was producing replay-worthy slams soon after joining that club. The title they won, the FIBA Europe Cup, was a second-tier tournament for all of the top teams across the continent.
Now he hopes to replicate it in France.
“It was an awesome moment,” Carter said. “The team just came together at the right time. And for me, at the time I got hurt, and I didn’t know if I’d get to be on a special team like that. It was incredible.”