Alex Caruso may not have the typical NBA story, but he's proving game-by-game that his is an NBA player.
On Sunday night, the 24-year-old from College Station, who was born and bred to be a Texas A & M Aggie, earned his first start for the Los Angeles Lakers. With Brandon Ingram out due to a concussion and Lonzo Ball recovering from a left knee contusion, Caruso got the call to start at point guard only hours before tip-off against the Sacramento Kings.
This was the first start of Caruso's NBA career, but the sudden nature of the news didn't even register as a shock because of the twists and turns it took to land the point guard into the Lakers' starting lineup.
A couple nights earlier, for example, after playing 31 minutes in an overtime game, Caruso was on his way to the airport to play in a G-League playoff game for the South Bay Lakers in Oklahoma City.
"Flight was at 12:55 and it was a red-eye," Caruso shared, providing a clear reminder that the G-League still flies commercial airlines. "I was going to connect through Dallas to OKC."
Fearing Ingram's absence and Ball's unavailability, Lakers coach Luke Walton and company made a last second decision to call off the trip. Walton said, "He got a call on the way to the airport to not continue his drive and to go home and get some sleep."
The South Bay Lakers won without Caruso on Saturday, which meant the team would be playing a single-elimination playoff game in Reno on Tuesday night. Even after making his first career NBA start on Sunday night, though, Caruso kept his guard up when a question assumed he would be starting for the Lakers on Tuesday night in Utah.
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"Assuming that I'm going to Utah in the first place is kind of just up in the air," the point guard responded. "It's still late, and I'll find out tonight what my schedule is tomorrow to see which team I'm flying out with."
The Lakers opted to take Caruso to Utah, where he's considered the likely starter for the second straight game. This may not be the typical NBA story, but the undrafted rookie doesn't seem to mind.
"Not many people get to experience what I've gotten to experience in a year's time," Caruso said. "I mean, a year ago, I was done. I had just lost a playoff game in the (D-League) after playing a full season. [I was a] free agent not knowing what I was doing, going to a G-League showcase to try and find something for myself."
Caruso added, "So, to see how far I've come in a year is really special. I'm really humbled to be in this position and just really excited for the future."
The point guard first registered on the radar of Lakers' fans when he had a few impressive performances in the NBA Summer League. At one point, Caruso had the pro-Lakers crowd in Las Vegas losing its mind against lottery draft pick De'Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings. A fan seemingly conjured an impromptu sign that read "Fox fears Carusso."
Caruso's name was spelled wrong on the sign, but the standout performances landed the feisty guard a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. The two-way contract placed a maximum number of days that Caruso could spend with the parent club before having to return to the G-League's South Bay Lakers. Caruso expended the maximum number of days on his contract and returned to the G-League with no promise of a return.
"At that point, I kind of had an earshot from my agent and the coaches and front office that I was going to spend the rest of the year with South Bay until we were done," Caruso told NBCLA.com. "Obviously, that changed, but that's kind of the theme of the year for me is I thought I was going to do one thing and I was with the other team or something happened and I got flipped."
Caruso's been a standout performer in the G-League and proven he can be a capable backup in the NBA. After scored 41 points, recording 12 assists, pulling down eight rebounds and swiping three steals in a G-League game in December, Golden State Warriors all-star Draymond Green even took notice on social media. After calling out Caruso's "Amazing game," Green proceeded to ridicule the then 23-year-old for his thinning hair, saying "It's a must he cut his hair off though…pathetic."
Caruso kept the hair, and he kept his head down in the G-League to the tune of 19.0 points, 7.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game in 29 appearances.
Once the G-League regular season wrapped up, Caruso was available for a call-up back to the NBA, and a series of injuries now have him as the primary point guard on the Lakers' depth chart.
"[I'm] just trying to stay present for these last couple weeks, as hard as that is to do knowing a big summer is coming ahead of me and I've had such a good year," Caruso said on the topic of approaching a likely second NBA start in Utah. "I'm just really trying to stay present."
He added, "Really wish we'd gotten a win, so I could be 1-0 in my starter career, but [I'm] just happy that I got to play the game at the end of the day."
Asked what it meant to be the Lakers' starting point guard after all he's been through, Caruso told NBCLA.com, "Right now is probably the first time I've thought about this year and the experiences and it's almost up—how fast it's gone."
Caruso concluded, "It's been crazy, you know, from the journey that I've taken, but I think it's been special, and I don't think I'd trade it for anything. It kind of built me into the person that I am."