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‘She’ll probably be a world champion:’ Jason Terry talks Chennedy Carter and reminisces on days with Atlanta Hawks

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The NBA veteran and former Atlanta Hawks first-round draft pick Jason Terry is optimistic about the future of basketball in the city he began his professional career.

2019 NBA Global Games - Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

It has all come full circle for Jason Terry.

21 years after the Atlanta Hawks selected the guard out of the University of Arizona with the 10th overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft, the Atlanta Dream selected his goddaughter Chennedy Carter, a guard out of Texas A&M, with the No. 4 overall pick of the 2020 WNBA Draft.

Terry first met Carter on the AAU circuit when she was in sixth grade.

During every offseason in the latter half of his 19-season NBA career, Terry coached his daughter’s AAU program in Dallas. When his daughter’s team faced Carter for the first time, she immediately stood out.

“Something just drew me to her,” Terry told Peachtree Hoops. “It probably was the cornrows and the swag of the way she played her game. We were in seventh grade, she was in sixth, but she was holding her own against the big girls. Man, she looked like Allen Iverson out there.”

Terry stayed connected to Carter throughout the years, and the Dream guard still comes back to assist him with his AAU team.

“We go way back forever the goat JT,” Carter once commented on one of Terry’s Instagram posts.

On the court, Carter lived up to the expectations Terry placed on her coming through the travel ball circuit.

In an offseason clouded with hype surrounding former Oregon and current New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, Carter proved to be a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate out the gate. Her best game of the season came in a one-point loss to the eventual-champion Seattle Storm on Aug. 6, where she finished with 35 points, seven assists, five turnovers, three rebounds, two steals and a block. After Ionescu suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Dream on July 31, Carter was the frontrunner to earn the title of the league’s best first-year player.

On Aug. 10, Carter suffered an ankle injury of her own. She didn’t play again until 18 days later. The Dream went 1-6 in the time without their primary scorer. In games she played more than 20 minutes in her return, Atlanta went 4-3 and put itself in a position to make the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.

“To watch her in the WNBA, the impact she had right away as a rookie last year making some noise, the future’s so bright for her,” Terry said. “I think she’s a future Hall of Famer in the WNBA, and she’ll probably be a world champion as well.”

The championship prediction doesn’t come solely from Terry’s belief in Carter, but also in the Dream’s latest first round pick. Last month, Atlanta selected Aari McDonald with the third overall pick, a guard from Terry’s alma mater of Arizona. Listed at 5-foot-6, McDonald is a quick guard who takes pride in defense and is known for her three-point shooting. She averaged 21.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.5 steals per game in her three seasons as a Wildcat, but her introduction to most of the casual women’s basketball world came when she posed in a b-boy stance at mid-floor on her way to eliminating UCONN in the final four with a 26-point performance last month.

“With the addition of Aari McDonald, they have one of the best backcourts in the league hands down,” Terry said. “It’s not even close. We’ll get to see them here on display in a couple of weeks.”

Terry said his AAU team will be in Atlanta on one of the weekends the Dream have a home game and he hopes to catch the backcourt live at College Park’s Gateway Center Arena.

Connecting with the community

On the court, the rebuilding Hawks weren’t known for winning games in Terry’s time with the organization from 1999-2004. The team drafted the 1999 National Player of the Year after trading longtime point guard Mookie Blaylock, which signaled a fresh start.

The franchise lowlight of this rebuilding period was a failed playoff guarantee in the 2002-03 season when the Hawks paid each season ticket holder ~$125 after finishing 12 games under .500 and missing the postseason. Terry, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Theo Ratliff lived up to the preseason expectation, but the rest of the team underperformed and never quite gelled.

Despite the team’s lack of success in the win column, Terry still signified a large part of Atlanta’s culture as a city in the early 2000s.

“Black Hollywood,” Terry called the city. “My time coming up through there, I think it just phased out from Freaknik and it started a new hip hop culture and era in Atlanta where you had guys like Young Jeezy, Jermaine Dupree, all those guys, Outkast, T.I, Ludacris, 2 Chainz. All of those guys were coming to support the Hawks, the Falcons, the Braves.”

The Seattle native said starting his career in such a hub of pop culture was an adjustment. He went from seeing Washington native and rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot as a special sighting to having hip hop’s biggest names like Diddy come to Buckhead and host America’s most popular parties for a weekend.

“To see those type of entertainers and to be able to sit in a nightclub with them, share stories and experiences,” Terry said, “then, go to picnics on the weekend, barbeques and see all those guys and interact with them, I mean that was like a dream come true in itself. It really was a fairytale, to be quite honest with you.”

Terry’s reality suddenly changed after the 1999 NBA Draft, but he didn’t take the moment for granted.

He made sure his on-court productivity validated his rightful place in the city’s social scene, as he led the Hawks in scoring and averaged over 19 points per game in 2000-01 and 2001-02. When the country looked at Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson as a culture representative for the league, the Atlanta youth had their own local example in Terry. Iverson, a longtime Atlanta native, hosted a celebrity game in Atlanta during the summer, and Terry hosted two summer games of his own with the United Negro College Fund where he brought out his pro athlete and entertainer friends he met at multiple social events in the city.

To add to his popularity, the charismatic combo guard trademarked his knee-high socks and team-colored headbands each night. Off the court, he donned the tall tees and baggy sweat suits synonymous with hip hop culture at the time.

“I remember (rapper) Nelly came through, he rocked his headband, you had even Mike Vick, who was the star right there with the Falcons, he had his headband,” Terry said. “I mean, we’re wearing that at the nightclubs. We got the headbands, we got the velour sweatsuits, I mean the culture was crazy then.”

It was a fashion era Terry even looks back at and laughs at occasionally.

“The 3X white tees,” he said. “I looked at a picture the other day, I weigh 180 pounds. I don’t know how I ever fit in a 3X t-shirt and size 38 jeans. Man, that was crazy, but that was just a part of the culture and growing up.”

Terry’s impact on Atlanta’s youth in the era continued to linger in the years to come. “The Jet” was one of the NBA players mentioned in the hip hop group Migos’ 2013 single “Jumpin Out The Gym” by rapper Takeoff.

Shooting jump shot like Brent Barry, Kyle Korver, Jason Terry

Takeoff was born in 1994, and he was 10 when the Hawks traded Terry to the Dallas Mavericks in August 2004.

“It definitely makes you have a good feeling to know you had a positive impact on certain generations,” he said. “(Migos) were just young kids (when Terry played for the Hawks). To watch us and understand we had an influence on them at one particular time, it’s a tremendous honor for sure.”

Now, two of Terry’s favorite guards have an opportunity to become a part of the city’s culture. This summer marks the first time McDonald and Carter showcase their talents live to Atlanta residents, as Carter was unable to play in College Park last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think she’s going to be intertwined right along with the era that I came into,” he said. “The hip hop scene, the culture, which Atlanta has right now, it’s going to be big. I think that they’re going to put their arms around the Atlanta Dream now with new ownership, new management, it’s really a new era.

“Women’s basketball is going to make a statement for years to come, but I can see the Atlanta Dream being one of those teams that crosses over into the hip hop culture and being accepted just like my era and when I came in. There are going to be entertainers at the Atlanta Dream games sitting courtside. I know 2 Chainz has brought his daughters to games and other celebrities are going to bring their kids to see games and watch. One, it’s entertaining, but it’s also competitive. They’ve got a good team, and you’re going to be proud to say the Atlanta Dream are a part of the Atlanta community.”

Terry said his respect for the women’s game has always existed, and he called Seattle native and former WNBA player Rhonda Smith one of the best basketball players he’s ever seen. His girls basketball program was set to face Mamba Academy on the day Kobe Bryant, Gigi Bryant and seven other passengers died in a helicopter accident on the way to the game.

In addition to coaching girls basketball, Terry became an assistant for the Arizona men’s basketball this past season. He first became interested in coaching as a player when Avery Johnson became the head coach in Dallas at the end of his first season with the Mavericks.

“When I got drafted to Atlanta, I was just hoopin’,” Terry said. “I had a great work ethic, I knew how to play, but I really didn’t learn the game and become a student and teacher of the game until I learned from Avery Johnson.”

Terry said he looks forward to continuing coaching collegiately and perhaps in the NBA someday. Until the day comes where he finds himself back on an NBA bench, he’ll be watching two of his favorite guards play in the city that started it all for him professionally.

“Atlanta, that’s the city, it’ll always be home,” Terry said. “I’ll always remember the ATLiens, Hotlanta, I’ll always be a part of the history and tradition of Atlanta. That gave me my birthplace in the NBA, so I’m forever indebted to the city for welcoming me in and making me one of its own.”