How Duke's Chris Carrawell became the type of father he never had

In March, Chris Carrawell, left, returned to Duke as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski, right.
In March, Chris Carrawell, left, returned to Duke as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski, right. Staff photographer

When it rained outside the house, it rained inside the house. There was no kitchen table and only two beds for four children and their mother. The north St. Louis neighborhood was so rife with drugs, gangs and crime, many youngsters wound up dead or incarcerated. The household lacked a loving adult male, a father’s role Chris Carrawell needed to manufacture for himself and his own family later in life.

Carrawell and his siblings came through relatively unscathed thanks to the strict guidance of Joanne Hayes, herself the child of a single and less dedicated mother. She was determined, she says, not to be “a mother of the street,” but rather to attend to her children’s welfare and “break the cycle” of broken families in her community. “Coming up on that rough side,” Hayes declares,” and that was the side I came up on, there was no values. We were never told how to be a woman, a mother, or a wife in the home.”

Devoid of examples to follow, she learned on her own. “She’s a self-made woman,” Carrawell, recently returned to Duke as an assistant basketball coach, says of Hayes. “She gave us a foundation. She was strong. In my neighborhood, you needed to be strong. The rough guys, they respected her and they looked out for me.” As sometimes happens in poor, inner-city areas, the toughs also wanted to see a local athlete succeed.

Despite their quite modest means, Carrawell and his mother rejected head-turning inducements -- a new house, new car, cash or a job for Hayes -- when shady college recruiters came calling in the mid-90s. “Look, we’ve gotten to this point, you’re not going to do it now,” his mother said of compromising principles inculcated through church attendance and her iron hand.

Yet, for all the heartfelt praise he bestows on Hayes, Carrawell felt a troubling absence as one of the vast majority of children in his neighborhood without a father in the house. In 1996, the year the small forward graduated Cardinal Ritter High School, the U.S. Census Bureau reported more than half of black American children under 18 lived in a household with a single mother, compared to approximately 28 percent of the populace overall. (Last year’s estimates pegged single-motherhood down in both categories.)

Basketball brought Carrawell several white father-figures in high school and in Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, where in 2000 the player nicknamed “C-well” was a consensus All-America and ACC player of the year. But Hayes’ eldest child longed for a true male parent. “You still feel, not all the way empty, but I never had that relationship with anybody that looked like me,” he says. “When you’re young, you think like that.”

Then, in the lobby of a Charlotte hotel during the 1999 ACC tournament, Carrawell was approached by a man whom he’d never met but immediately recognized. Biology aside, Carrawell understood the stranger, the answer to an old dream, was not his father. Not after leaving his family behind, not when he gave Carrawell money in much the way the neighborhood toughs occasionally slipped him a few bucks.

“That was awkward,” recalls the genial Carrawell. He never did hit it off with his birth father, although both tried to forge a bond. “Giving a person money doesn’t constitute a relationship,” Carrawell, 40, says with a touch of disdain. The failed connection underscored the need for Carrawell to be a supportive, engaged father when the chance came.

Nearly two decades later he’s taking advantage of just that opportunity, fulfilling a goal he confided before leaving Duke to assist former Blue Devil teammate Steve Wojciechowski at Marquette. “I have to nurture relationships and really be there for my kids,” Carrawell says of his two boys. “That’s the biggest thing in the world, is for me to be the best father. That’s my legacy.”

While Carrawell played on eight different pro teams in outposts from Asheville to Italy to Venezuela to Australia, he sent child support to his older son’s mother and kept in touch. Back home during the summers, he took Caleb under his wing.

Former Duke basketball player Chris Carrawell and assistant coach of the Springfield Armor (the Brooklyn Nets minor league affiliate) speaks with Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd at the Duke basketball practice facility in Durham, N.C. Tuesday October 1, 2013.

Carrawell says he “didn’t want to be the parent who forces anything on his kids.” Nevertheless, on a trip to Chuck E. Cheese his very young son quickly became fixated on one sport. “He would start crying unless I let him do the basketball,” Carrawell says. Now Caleb Stone-Carrawell, 17, is one of North Carolina’s better prep prospects after helping Concord’s Cox Mill High to consecutive 3A state titles.

Following his pro playing career, Carrawell found work at Duke, holding a variety of basketball-related positions from “outreach coordinator” to assistant strength and conditioning coach. He worked briefly as a special assistant to Duke women’s coach Joanne P. McCallie before Duke alum Billy King got him an assistant coach’s job with the Brooklyn Nets’ developmental team. After that it was on to Marquette for four years, then back to Duke, where both sons are close at hand. “It’s my coming back to family,” he says of his enthusiastic return.

Carrawell strikes his palm with a fist to punctuate his ideas of strict parental oversight, readily confessing he’s “banged heads” with Caleb over on-court work ethic and, most especially, academic achievement. The coach thinks it would be “cool” to guide his son’s basketball career in college, like Randolph Childress at Wake Forest with Brandon Childress. But Carrawell worries he might be too tough on his son, tougher than on other players. “I don’t want to fracture the father-son relationship,” he says.

That’s less of an immediate concern with Christian, 10, who grew up with both parents, his father in the house. Born in North Carolina, Christian is a “happy-go-lucky” enthusiast of computer and video games, according to Carrawell.

“I’m overwhelmed, I am, the example that he’s setting,” a proud Joanne Hayes says of her son. “The discipline, I like that. And to be there, physically, not just paying out the money.”

Carrawell is now the type of father he never had. “Somebody had to break the cycle,” he says. “I don’t want another group of men, black men, growing up without a father.”

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