“It's testimony that we just don't know what's inside of us,” he said.
Carroll is still big, a 50-something, 7-foot man who has evolved from an economics major and late-blooming basketball player into a wealth adviser, philanthropist and poet as well as an artist.
Carroll just published his own book, a coffee table memoir titled “Growing Up … In Words and Images” that features 70 of his paintings that tie into his childhood, basketball and deep thoughts on growing up as the 10th of 13 children in Arkansas and Colorado.
“It is surprising,” he said. “I didn't know I had that much inside of me.”
Carroll spoke from the Mackey Arena media room Saturday before Purdue's game against Indiana. He sported a pony tail, a big bow tie and a ready wit.
Take, for instance, his memory of the Boiler-Hoosier rivalry from the late 1970s.
“I've been telling people all weekend that, for this game, the players want to come to the arena early. They want to get up early. They want to go to the game early. They can't wait to go and try to beat the red off of IU.”
With Saturday's 82-64 win over Indiana, the Boilers did just that
“This is like the old Hatfield and McCoy feud,” Carroll said. “It's powerful. It's a great rivalry.
“I tease people from IU and ask if they have ever gotten over not getting into Purdue. I'll tell them that they pulled themselves together after going to IU. You made something out of your life.”
IU and Purdue had two memorable postseason meetings during Carroll's time. In 1979, the Hoosiers beat the Boilers 53-52 for the NIT championship. The next season, Purdue beat Indiana 76-69 in the Sweet 16 on its way to the Final Four in Indianapolis. That remains the last time the Boilers have played in a Final Four.
“The Final Four was special,” Carroll said. “The NIT was special. It would have been more special if it had had a happy ending.”
Purdue finished third in the Final Four (the tourney had a consolation game then), losing to UCLA 67-62 in the semifinals and beating Iowa 75-58 in the third-place game.
“Back then we were living game to game, and it was hard to know how important it was,” Carroll said. “As the years go by, knowing we were the last ones to do that, it was a special time. A special experience. It was overwhelming.”
Purdue honored Carroll at halftime of Saturday's Purdue-Indiana rivalry battle, and if it lacked the national implications it had when Carroll played (both teams came in 14-10), that wasn't the point. He spoke to the team before the game and met with sophomore bigman A.J. Hammons.
“He's a great young man. I try not to lecture. I found him to be open, intelligent and alert. He's very young. I'm hoping he'll be given the benefit of the doubt.”
Carroll was when he played. He was erratic his first two season before coming into his own as a junior.
In an era of four-year players, Carroll was the dominant Big Ten big man of his day. He totaled 1,148 career rebounds, second most in Big Ten history. He scored 2,175 career points, second at Purdue behind Rick Mount's 2,323. His school record of 349 blocks still stands.
As a senior, he averaged 22.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks to earn All-America honors.
Carroll was the NBA's No. 1 overall pick by the Golden State Warriors. He played 11 years in the NBA, made an All-Star Game and totaled 12,455 points, 5,404 rebound, 1,264 assists and 1,122 blocks. He averaged a career-high 24.0 points during the 1983-84 season.
Those days are long gone now, but the memory remains.
“Sports are such an adventure,” Carroll said. “You don't know what will happen when you go to see this human drama.”