Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
John Carroll’s basketball career has taken him far from his home in Ireland.
After growing up outside of Dublin, he spent his prep years in the U.S. at IMG Academy in Florida and then Hill School here in the Philadelphia-area before a Division I college career at Hartford. Then came professional stops in the Czech Republic and now Spain.
However, there’s no place like home — or rather playing for your home.
Carroll’s international career for Ireland men’s national team means a lot to him. Earlier this week, Ireland Basketball’s vice captain was promoted to captain — a moment he called the proudest achievement of his basketball career to date.
“For soccer, you look at Roy Kean, who (used to be) captain of Ireland. It’s a big thing to be captain here,” Carroll said.
“I put it as a goal about a year ago or two years ago. I had five goals and I kind of half met them by the time I was meant to. I was vice captain a year ago. … It’s good to fulfill even though it was later than I had hoped.”
(Ed. Note: Unfortunately, two days after Carroll was named Senior Captain, he announced that he had suffered a torn ACL, and will miss the entire 2022-23 season. He provided this statement to CoBL:
"It is quite a devastating injury at a particularly bad time in my career. It will be a long road back since this is the second time I have suffered this injury in the same leg. However, I’m confident I can return to the level in at now and return as captain of the Irish team if the opportunity arises.")
Former Hill School player John Carroll was recently named captain of Ireland's national team. (Photo courtesy Basketball Ireland)
Carroll’s father, Paul, played for Ireland’s men’s national team, but his son didn’t pick up the sport until age 12.
Growing up in Ireland, Carroll played Gaelic football, tennis, rugby and golf before finally finding out hoops was his true love.
“My dad played a little bit, but he kind of steered me away from it because he didn’t think there was much of a future in it,” Carroll said. “I don’t know I was kind of fascinated by it and fascinated by American culture in general so I gravitated towards basketball and started getting kind of good and then started growing at the right time and stuff so kept going at it. I went to America when I was 16 and that was it.”
Carroll went to basketball camps at Central Florida and Duke as a teenager when his family took trips to the U.S. He earned a scholarship from his school in Ireland and decided to use it to spend three weeks at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fl.
He was invited to spend another week to train with some of the athletes at IMG and was eventually invited to stay there on a partial scholarship, which he did for two years.
Carroll then spent a season at the Hill School, where averaged about 20 points and nine rebounds for a squad to lead the Blues to a 20-3 record, the school’s first-ever Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association State Championship and a Mid-Atlantic Prep League title before heading to Hartford.
“At IMG, I improved my game a lot and at the Hill School I kind of got to show it,” Carroll said. “Coach (Seth) Eilberg was and still is the coach and Phil Canosa, they gave me a lot of freedom to play my game and I also just had really good teammates. Bryce Allen, James Fives, Matt Foltz.”
Having a former player earn a leadership position like national team captain is what Eilberg said his Hill program is all about.
“John is extremely proud of his heritage and where he came from and it means a lot to be able to represent his country in international basketball,” Eilberg said. “To now captain the team, so much about what our program is about is developing leaders. So many players have gone on to captain their college teams to now have a player captaining the national team is something we’re really proud of.”
Carroll had former Ireland men’s national team coach Bill Dooley as an assistant at Hartford during part of his college career. Carroll was a three-year team captain and his 1,335 points and 644 rebounds ranked ninth and fourth, respectively in the program’s Division I history (the school is now transitioning to a Division III program).
After going through the NBA draft process, Carroll’s professional debut was with NH OStrava, playing in the Czech Republic’s first division in 2018-19 then with Marin Peixe Galego in Spain’s LEB Gold later that season.
He spent the 2020-21 season with Zamor in Spain’s LEB Silver league and played 29 games for Albacete in the same league this past season, averaging 11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, to help the team to LEB Gold promotion.
Carroll first played for his country on the U16 team. He made his men’s national team debut in 2017 while still at Hartford, but didn’t return to play again for Ireland until last year.
He led Ireland in scoring last summer as it won the FIBA European Championship for Small Countries for the second time in his country’s history. He also helped Ireland to a runner-up finish in its group during its FIBA 3x3 Europe Cup Qualifier in early June.
Playing for his country wasn’t something Carroll grew up dreaming of, but it became a goal as his basketball career and Ireland’s national team began to find their footing.
“By the time I was playing, there was no men’s national team really to speak of because of financial difficulties or whatever,” Carroll said. “So no I wasn’t really thinking about it then, and when they were good I wasn’t even playing basketball. It’s just how it worked out. But as I got to college, things built up again so I definitely in my mind I was like, ‘I want to come back and play for Ireland when it would suit.’”
Carroll will captain the team for the first time Thursday at the FIBA EuroBasket 2025 Pre-Qualifiers, when Ireland plays Austria in Salzburg. He said San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl is slated to play for Austria. Ireland will then face Switzerland on Sunday.
The team is 2-2 in qualification so far, playing two games in November and two more in February. Ireland won two games against Cyprus and dropped the first two matchups with Austria and Switzerland.
“These teams are all good, all pros, European pros,” Carroll said. “It’s been extremely high level, good for my game and good for Ireland in general just to have a full-flight national team playing again and playing at a high level and winning games.”
Carroll can feel the momentum of Irish basketball building.
More young players are finding opportunities to play overseas — whether that be in college or on a professional team. Along with some talented players who play domestically, there is a large contingent of national team players who play professionally elsewhere in Europe.
“We have a really good young team, so this is an exciting time for Irish basketball in general,” Carroll said. “Literally something as simple as you see more NBA jerseys around in Ireland than you ever did.
“We have a young team and loads of talent, so I think we can really push it and kind of get to those heights again, knocking on the door of EuroBasket and stuff like that. It won’t be easy and we definitely need more funding. So if we keep putting together results and keep bringing guys back, they’ll want to further the success of Irish basketball. I think we can reach those goals.”