NORMAN, Okla. - Senior forward Nate Carter arrived in Norman in the summer of 2004 after a very strong start to his collegiate basketball career at UC Riverside. Carter, from San Diego, Calif., averaged 16.4 points a game his first season and was named Big West Conference Freshman of the Year. He averaged 15.3 points a game as a sophomore and was a second-team all-league selection.
Yearning for a bigger stage, he transferred to OU.
Now, after sitting out a season due to transfer rules, seeing limited time as a junior last year, and staggering through a slow start this season, the 6-6, 220-pound left-hander is flourishing. Carter leads the Sooners in scoring (18.4 ppg), rebounding (8.1 rpg) and field goal percentage (.532) in Big 12 play and is one of three conference players to average at least 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds a contest in league games.
Carter also recently broke Hollis Price's school record for consecutive free throw makes in a season with 37 straight conversions.
SoonerSports.com sat down with Carter prior to Saturday's home game against Texas Tech to talk about his time as a Sooner and the reasons for his senior success.
Q: Can you sort of chronicle your ups and downs the last few years?
Carter: "I want to start out by saying things happen for a reason. I transferred here, I sat out a year, I was ready to go last year, then I got hurt and things weren't going the way I thought they were supposed to. Then Coach (Kelvin) Sampson left and Coach (Jeff) Capel arrived. I thought I was going to have a fresh start and get a chance to contribute and play a lot more than I did last year. It didn't happen that way and I was frustrated about it. But I just kept working on my game and just hoped and prayed that one day I'd get an opportunity.
"Then Moose (Keith Clark) got hurt and Coach told us that some guys were going to have to step up. Whenever I had the chance I would just go as hard as I could and just leave it all out there. Then Longar (Longar) got suspended and I got thrown in there. I took advantage of my opportunity and I've proven that I can play as well as people were saying I could when I first got here."
Q: It seems like you're having fun on the court the last few weeks. Is that the case?
Carter: "I'm having a lot of fun out there, just being able to go perform and help the team."
Q: Is the way you've been playing lately reminiscent of how you played your first two years at UC Riverside when you averaged 15.8 points a game?
Carter: "Actually, it's a different feeling. When you're a freshman, you don't really know what to expect and you're just out there playing. But now I'm hungry and determined to get stuff done. I'm not settling for anything small. Things are coming to an end. I have a lot to prove to my teammates, to the coaches, to the program, to myself."
Q: Coach Capel has said that he didn't think you necessarily had a lot of confidence in yourself earlier this season. Do you agree with that?
Carter: "I agree, but I think there was a reason for that. It's hard to have a lot of confidence if you're not playing much. I was frustrated because I know I can help the team. I sent Coach a text message and told him I wanted to talk to him. We had a meeting and he basically told me that he had 100 percent confidence in me. Then he asked me if I had confidence in myself. He said when I figure that out, that's when I'd be ready. At that point I wasn't playing much. The turning point was when Moose got hurt. I started to get his 12 or 13 minutes a game, so my 10 or so minutes turned into 20 some minutes a night. I hate what happened to Moose and then Longar, but it's how I got my opportunity."
Carter: "They're two different coaches. They both coach hard and they're both really good coaches, but they do things differently. Guys who were here last year had to get used to a new style - running motion, moving around, doing all the cutting and all the running up and down the court that we do. Under Coach Sampson, we wanted to run but we didn't run like we run now.
"It's cool because after Coach Capel was hired, he would tell us to come up to his office and just visit and hang out. We never did that with Coach Sampson. Adapting was hard in the beginning, but then everyone started to figure out and understand what Coach Capel wants from us. I think the program is definitely going in the right direction."
Q: Do you feel a late-season surge coming on for the team with so many home games and opportunities for wins against good teams?
Carter: "I think we've gotten better every game in some area on the court and I think it's about time for us to make a run. We want to show people how good we can be. We've lost a couple of tight games on the road recently and everyone's saying, 'They played so hard, they were so close.' Well, we don't want any moral victories. At the end of the day, we lost and the other team won. We want to win every game. We're trying to get to the point where we minimize mistakes. Then we'll be fine."
Q: But in those losses you mentioned, do you feel the team gained confidence?
Carter: "Oh, most definitely. Every game is like a stepping stone for us toward being really good. I think we can make a run and try to get payback against some of the teams that beat us the first time around in games we felt like we could have won. We want to make a run to close the regular season, play well in the Big 12 Tournament and hopefully get to the NCAA Tournament."
Q: You've got a real knack for getting offensive rebounds and getting to the free throw line. At 6-6, what are your tricks for being productive in the paint?
Carter: "It's just a matter of wanting the ball, no matter where it is. You can't worry about how big or tall the other guys are. You just try to get stuff done. When a shot goes up, you kind of have to read where it's going to go - you have to gamble on where you think it's going to bounce. Then you have to go to that spot and try to get position. It's tough sometimes because all that the really big guys have to do is lay a body on you. You have to try to get under them, push, go get the rebound and go back up strong. As far as getting to the free throw line, I just try to be aggressive and attack every opportunity I can. Sometimes I'll use lift fakes, sometimes I won't. I just try to mix things up as far as my moves."