FAIRBANKS — If you ventured roughly 30 minutes outside of Juneau to the basketball court behind Auke Bay Elementary School in the early 1990s, there’s a good chance you encountered a young boy with a giant dream of playing professional basketball.
Plenty of kids have aspirations of making it to the NBA, though few put in the effort young Carlos Boozer did to make his dream a reality.
“I grew up in the lower-middle class. We lived in an apartment and there was seven of us,” Boozer, 35, said over the phone. “We didn’t have a hoop, so my dad would drive me out to Auke Bay. They had a covered basketball court, so even if there was snow, I could dust it off and go shoot.”
Auke Bay Elementary was Boozer’s home away from home from the time he was 10 years old until he enrolled at Juneau-Douglas High School.
“That was my routine every single day,” he said. “Snow, rain, it didn’t matter. I’d get home from school, knock out my homework and ask my dad to take me over there when he got off work. We’d work out for two hours and come home for dinner. Every day for four years.”
The routine paid off, as Boozer quickly established himself as one of basketball’s best kept secrets once he joined the Crimson Bears.
During his high school career, Boozer led Juneau-Douglas to a 95-12 record and back-to-back Class 4A state titles in 1997 and ’98.
At Duke University, he became a household name and helped the Blue Devils win the 2001 NCAA Division I national championship before turning pro after his junior season.
After playing more than 850 games in the NBA, Boozer is set to return to his alma mater to host the Carlos Boozer Camp from July 31-Aug. 4 at the Juneau-Douglas gymnasium.
Although Boozer held a camp at the school while playing for the Utah Jazz, he said he realized it had to return when he visited Juneau-Douglas after the Crimson Bears won the 2016 state title, the program’s first since he graduated.
“I went up there when the team won state again, and I just saw the need for the community to gain some of the knowledge I have learned along the way,” Boozer said. “This is the perfect time with where I’m at in my career and also my life to come back and give back to the community.”
Boozer was born at a military base in Aschaffenburg, West Germany, though his family relocated to Washington, D.C., when he was a young boy.
His family moved to Juneau, a decision he said put him in a perfect situation, when he was 9 years old.
“It was the best thing,” he said. “I came from D.C., the inner city with a lot of gang violence and violence in general. Living in Alaska and being outdoorsy made me more well rounded.”
In addition to how safe Juneau was compared to his old neighborhood, Boozer recognized the people of Alaska’s capital were much kinder, too.
“Everybody knows their neighbor,” he said. “Everybody knows their neighbor’s dog’s name. That’s how close it is in Juneau.”
But once the power forward started gaining notoriety — he was a two-time Parade high school All-American, as well as a player in the high school McDonald’s All-American game — it became a lot tougher for the 6-foot-9 Boozer to blend in with the crowd.
When his family wasn’t hosting college coaches on recruiting trips, Boozer found solace in exploring Sandy Beach, also known as Savikko Park, during his free time.
“All of this stuff was happening to me — I was getting all this national attention when I was 16, so I’d drive out to Sandy Beach to get away from it all,” he said. “I’d shoot hoops, walk the beach or have a great conversation with my friends or my girlfriend, whoever was there with me. I would be at peace at Sandy Beach.”
After leaving Alaska and spending three seasons at Duke, Boozer was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 35th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft. He spent two seasons in Cleveland before joining the Jazz, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers during his 13-year career.
The two-time NBA All-Star also had the opportunity to play for Team USA in the Olympics twice.
In 2008, playing alongside some of basketball’s greatest stars like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, Boozer captured a gold medal in Beijing.
“It was a huge honor because my dad was in the army and my grandfather was a Tuskegee Airman,” he said. “There are very few times as an American, or just a person in general, that you get to represent your country. To represent your country doing what you love to do ... it’s an unbelievable honor.”
Although basketball has helped Boozer earn millions of dollars, and has allowed him to travel the world — he played for the Guangdong Southern Tigers, of the Chinese Basketball Association, during the 2016-17 season — he’s always been proud to call Alaska home.
However, it hasn’t always been easy. Throughout his career, Boozer encountered many doubters who questioned the skills a player from the 49th state could have.
“People used to make fun because they hadn’t heard of many good players from Alaska,” he said. “The only one who came before me was Trajan (Langdon), so I had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove that people could play ball from anywhere.”
Boozer never stopped believing he could go from Juneau to the NBA, partly because his parents never discouraged him from doing so.
“I had parents that let me dream. They let me fly,” he said. “My mom and dad were like, ‘Okay, you’ve got to get good grades and we’ll do whatever we can.’ They literally went broke sending me from camp, to camp, to camp because I wanted to keep getting better.”
Now Boozer is eager to pay it forward and help another generation of Alaskans improve their game at his camp, which is for kids ages 5-18.
“I want these kids to know they should never give up. That’s my message to them,” he said. “You’re going to run into a lot of people that are on your side, and a lot more that won’t believe in your same dream. Use that as motivation and don’t let somebody else’s negative energy project onto you and make you think you can’t do something.”
Boozer said he believes he has two more years of good basketball left, and he hopes to land with an NBA contender — perhaps Golden State or San Antonio — by the middle of August. Before he thinks about amounting a comeback, though, he’s eager to return home and give back to the community that helped shape him as a person.
“I tell people all the time, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing in life — if you’re a reporter, a teacher or an NBA star — you can’t get there by yourself. People help you along the way. I’ve had a lot of help along the way, so I want to give back to Alaska and my city.”
The camp will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 31-Aug. 4. Registration is $150 per camper and includes a Carlos Boozer Nike camp T-shirt and the opportunity to win giveaways during daily competitions.
A portion of the proceeds will go toward sickle cell disease research. Boozer’s oldest son, Carmani, battled the disease before he was cured through a bone marrow transplant.
More information and registration is available at http://bit.ly/2w5JtPs.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.