Basketball provides a distraction for Lorenzo Carter

Some of college football’s bigger names have shown up for basketball events this season at Norcross High.

Coaches such as Georgia’s Mark Richt, Florida’s Will Muschamp, and LSU’s Les Miles really aren’t interested in basketball.

They’ve been hanging around the gym to eyeball Lorenzo Carter, a 6-foot-6 power forward for Norcross with a 42-inch vertical jump. He also happens to be the state’s No. 1 football prospect, according to the composite rankings.

Carter, who plays defensive end in football, will announce his college decision at 3 p.m. Wednesday on ESPN. His finalists are Georgia, Florida, LSU and Florida State.

The crossover between basketball and football has created some signature moments on the recruiting trail.

At a recent game, Carter’s parents were surrounded in the bleachers by five coaches in what is known in the industry as “hand-to-hand combat” — neither college backing down an inch in public while in a fierce battle for an elite recruit.

Carter’s mother was seated next to Florida State defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, while his father chatted with Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. Neither coach acted as if a coach from his school’s arch-rival was a few feet away.

“It was a little awkward at first, but then you just relax,” Carter’s mother, Lisa, said. “They’re people, we’re people, and you just have normal conversation. It will all work out how it’s supposed to in the end. But they are good people at Florida and Florida State. I enjoy talking to both of them. They have funny stories.”

Another funny story was from when Richt showed up at practice last week. Carter needed some ideas for a dunk contest that was being filmed that day, and his teammates prodded him into approaching Richt. The idea was for the coach to stand under the basket, while Carter would do a high-flying jam over him.

Richt initially agreed to serve as a prop, but had to decline after checking with NCAA compliance.

There also was the time that a visiting coach clapped routinely throughout practice, which is uncommon but creative.

“This notable SEC head coach come all the way up to the courtside and actually started clapping during our practice when Lorenzo would do something,” Norcross basketball coach Jesse McMillan said. “Lorenzo has always got coaches trying to get a piece of his attention, but he’s handling it well.

Before a recent game, Carter was listening to a pep talk from his coach when his phone lit up.

“My coach is really tough on us about using cellphones during meetings,” Carter said. “I had my phone, and I just flipped it to vibrate. And right when I flipped it, coach Les Miles called. It’s vibrating, and I’m hoping my coach doesn’t hear it.

“I pick up, but I don’t say anything and leave coach Miles on the phone to hear my coach talking. I’m thinking ‘Hopefully (Miles) gets the memo that I’m in a meeting.’ I called (Miles) back later on and he laughed about it, saying he was glad he didn’t get me into trouble with my coach.”

Basketball always has been Carter’s first love, and he has attracted some serious interest from coaches in that sport, too. Carter played his freshman year at Mays High, then transferred to Whitefield Academy in time to be a member of the Class A private school’s 2012 state championship team.

As a tall and lanky sophomore, Carter started to get basketball recruiting letters from Tennessee and Georgia and thought he was on the brink of getting his first scholarship offer from Tennessee Tech, “until they found out I was a football player.”

When Carter transferred to Norcross as a junior, he shifted his focus to football because of his future potential. But he didn’t stop playing basketball, and he was a starter on last year’s AAAAAA state championship team.

“If Zo put his focus on basketball year-round, he’d be a high-major basketball recruit. I’ve had several coaches tell me that,” McMillan said. “It’s his combination of speed and athleticism. He has good touch around the rim, and he’s tough. He would be a really good power forward at the major-college level.”

Carter’s father played college basketball at LeMoyne-Owen, while his mother was a volleyball player at Jackson State. The younger Carter is intrigued by playing two sports in college, but will stick with football only.

“It’s just so hard to (major in) mechanical engineering as a regular student, not to even mention playing football, too,” Carter said. “I just feel like I can go further in football, and I’ve grown to like it. I love the physicality of football and not being able to foul out.”

This season at Norcross, Carter has averaged 10 points and 9 rebounds for the 17-5 Blue Devils. He has had a few signature moments, including a team-high 24 points against Collins Hill and finishing with a double-double (11 points and 12 rebounds) against North Gwinnett.

His biggest play might’ve been sinking a free throw with 1.9 seconds left in regulation to give Norcross a 59-58 win at Peachtree Ridge on Friday. Carter left right after the game to go on his official visit to Georgia.

“He brings toughness in the post area for us,” McMillan said. “He may not be a guy who is scoring 20 points per night, but just his mentality and focus he brings to the floor are immeasurable for us.”

At first, Carter decided not to play basketball as a senior because he was overwhelmed with football recruiting. However, he changed his mind because of the chance to win a fifth ring, including two championships from playing football at Norcross.

“He has a lot of things going on, but basketball is a good thing for Lorenzo,” said his father, Leo. “He’s a leader on the team. He’s having fun out there. It gets his mind off the recruiting process.”