INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Michael Carter-Williams spent most of his basketball life trying to say all the right things in public.
Last summer, he finally got a chance to be himself on camera.
The quiet former Syracuse star agreed to let a television crew profile his journey through the NBA’s summer league and now the whole world can get a glimpse at what is like for a star player when “Summer Dreams” premieres on CBS during the heart of March Madness. An official announcement from CBS and Mandalay Sports Media about the March 15 launch was scheduled for Wednesday.
The reality program features four NBA rookie prospects — Carter-Williams, Dallas Mavericks guard Shane Larkin, Romero Osby and Dwayne Davis — NBA referee hopeful Lauren Holtkamp and NBA D-League coach Joel Abelson as they try to take the next big steps in their careers.
Most of the participants saw it as an opportunity to gain exposure. Carter-Williams wanted others to see a side of life he rarely shows.
“I think the biggest difference was it wasn’t me having to necessarily say the right thing,” the Philadelphia 76ers guard told The Associated Press. “I could say what I felt about the game. I didn’t have to pretend to be anyone else.”
The show is scheduled to air in a two-hour slot Saturday night after CBS broadcasts its fourth and final game of the day and less than 24 hours before the NCAA tournament pairings are announced on Selection Sunday.
Network executives are betting that will be a ratings winner. But that’s not why executive producer Mike Tollin took on this project.
He wanted to give basketball fans a look into a world that looks like a combination of baseball’s winter meetings and the NFL’s annual scouting combine while providing a platform that goes well beyond the high-profile stars such as Carter-Williams and Larkin, both first-round picks last June.
Osby, Orlando’s second-round pick, and Davis, an undrafted free agent, got a chance to show they could compete against NBA-caliber talent. Osby was averaging 16.2 points with Maine in the D-League until being waived after sustaining a season-ending right shoulder injury Jan. 11. Davis is scoring 9.7 points for UCAM Murica, a Spanish team.
Holtkamp used the Las Vegas games to audition in front of Joe Borgia, vice president of NBA referee operations, and has worked a handful of NBA contests this season.
Abelson turned the week into his own personal job fair, searching for a new job after being fired as head coach of Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce. He landed the head coaching job with Reno, a D-League affiliate of the Sacramento Kings, and the Bighorns were tied for the West Division lead at 16-11.
“I’ve done a lot of sports documentaries and I’m always attracted to the underdog. It gives us the hope and the belief that dreams come true there (in Vegas) and great stories emerge,” Tollin said. “I’d like to have people discover the Las Vegas summer league and appreciate how hard it is to get there, how long the odds are people have to overcome to become one of the chosen.”
The project began with camera crews following about 15 people.
Over the course of two months, editors settled on the six who provided the most compelling story lines and the greatest access. Along the way, Tollin and his team of Jon Weinbach, Danny Meiseles and Mason Gordon documented a series of intriguing tales.
Larkin, the son of baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, shows his disgust after breaking his right ankle just before the summer games begin and is shown wiping his eyes as his mother tries to comfort him. After undergoing surgery, the show follows Larkin as his father helps him cope with the grueling challenge of rehab.
Mandy Carter-Zegarowski, a former women’s college basketball player who plays the dual role of mother and personal manager of her son, Carter-Williams, searches for the right balance to help her son.
During lunch with four other mothers who had NBA sons, she finds out each had similar concerns when their children were rookies.
Gerald Henderson’s mother, Marie, recounts a story about the time she wanted to know why her son wasn’t on the court and Rod Higgins, then Charlotte’s president of basketball operations, offered to take her to the locker room. She accepted the offer, much to her son’s chagrin.
And Hakim Warrick’s mother, Queen, recalls the time she called the NBA office to find out why her son wasn’t playing more minutes.
“No, I have not called the league office and I have not gone into any locker rooms, either,” Carter-Zegarowski said, laughing. “That scene at the restaurant that was really hilarious. It was real, and I’ve stayed in touch with those mothers.”
If all goes well, Tollin hopes to make a sequel this summer with a whole new cast of characters.
For Carter-Williams, the reality of sharing a television stage with his mother opened the door to a whole new world.
“A lot of people are going to know about my mom a lot more,” he said, explaining his expects to get his new teammates to tease him. “But people are going to see me as someone different, too.”