For an elite basketball player, adaptability is a skill valued just as much as a reliable jump shot or a quick first step off the dribble.
Latter-day Saint pro hoopster Jaycee Carroll’s proven capacity to adapt to whatever changes he encounters has served him as well as his deadeye three-point shooting range — both on and off the court.
As a high-scoring teenager at Wyoming’s Evanston High School, Carroll learned to adapt to double-and triple-team defenses, averaging nearly 40 points his senior season.
As a full-time missionary in Chile, Elder Carroll initially struggled to learn Spanish. But again he adapted — eventually becoming fluent in a language that would later prove invaluable as a professional athlete competing far from his homeland.
As an undersized, 6-foot-2-inch guard at Utah State University, he adapted to the speed and athleticism of Division 1 basketball, becoming the Aggies all-time scoring leader and earning multiple All-America honors.
And over the course of an ongoing 11-year professional career in Europe, he has adapted to new cultures and playing styles — becoming the fan favorite “El Mormon” while making Spain his second home.
But at each “got-to-adapt” stage in his life, Carroll has remained anchored to two unalterable things: his faith and his family.
The basketball teams and playing styles may change (although he’s been a part of one of Europe’s most storied squads, Real Madrid, since 2011) — but with each new step he remains a priesthood holder; a husband to his wife, Baylee; and a doting dad to his four children: Bella, 10; Alba, 8; Zoe, 5; and Jagger, 2.
When the Church News caught up with Carroll in early September, he had just returned to Spain after spending a couple of months with his family in rural northern Utah. The 36-year-old was far from the horses and the ranching lifestyle that he loves, but eager for another successful campaign with the “Madrilenos.”
“Last season was a good year,” he said. “We won the Super Cup, played in the Final Four of the Euro League and won the Spanish League for the fifth time.”
His game winning 3-pointer last June during the Spanish League Finals has been viewed by legions across the world and demonstrates that, even in his mid-30s, Carroll can still bring fans to their feet.
“I feel good and I’m excited about the possibilities of this season,” he said. “My family and I have found a home here in Madrid, where I’ve spent the past eight seasons. We’re just enjoying everything Spain has to offer. My oldest kids all speak Spanish and go to Spanish school and we continue to enjoy the culture.”
As a young athlete growing up in southern Wyoming, Carroll was certain he would play in the NBA. But as his college career flourished, he realized that promising basketball opportunities were also found outside of the United States.
“That was when the idea came into my head that playing overseas could be an amazing adventure,” he said.
Carroll marvels at the many places the game has taken him. He’s played in China, Azerbaijan, South America, Puerto Rico and across the European Continent.
“Basketball,” he said, “has taken me around the world.”
His first true international experience came after high school during his mission to Chile.
It might surprise the Spanish basketball reporters that regularly interact with Carroll in their local language that “espanol” was once a struggle for the young American.
“My two goals when I left for my mission was to learn the Spanish language and to become as knowledgeable about the gospel as possible,” he said. “But being at the MTC was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Sports had always come easy to me. … But it seemed like every other missionary learned Spanish quicker than me and knew more about the gospel.”
He decided he would work hard and follow every mission rule in hopes that his language skills and gospel knowledge would improve. Over time, his Spanish became less and less labored as he shared his beliefs with his Chilean investigators.
“I’m so grateful for that experience,” he said.
Fast forward four or five years to when the Spanish basketball club Gran Canaria was considering offering Carroll a playing contract.
The Gran Canaria administrators and coaches “liked that I was an American that could speak Spanish with their fans. And because I had served a Spanish-speaking mission, I was able to speak with my Spanish coaches and teammates and really become part of the community.”
Inevitably, reporters wanted to know how an American from Wyoming with a name like Carroll was so comfortable conversing in Spanish. Answering their questions often doubled as mini-“discussions” about missionary service and gospel topics.
Even today, his Latter-day Saint background remains linked to his identity with the Spanish media.
“Many times a newspaper article will say: ‘Jaycee Carroll, the Mormon from Evanston, Wyoming, scored this many points or that many points,’” he said. “Even my (Real Madrid) team captain doesn’t call me Jaycee — he calls me ‘The Mormon.’”
Despite Carroll’s long and successful tenure with Real Madrid, securing playing time and a place on the roster remains relentlessly competitive.
“Every year, there’s a new crop of young college players and Spanish players and Greek players that are trying to steal your spot,” he said. “You have to constantly be prepared and be in shape, because there’s always someone that wants to be where you are.”
Carroll is grateful that his young family lives with him in Spain’s bustling capital. Baylee and the kids help him stay relaxed and grounded. “They give me something to look forward to after road games and after practices.”
He’s also invigorated by Madrid’s Latter-day Saint community.
“The wards and stakes here have been phenomenal,” he said. “They give me callings that can work with my schedule. A lot of the time they put me with the youth, which is a good place for me to be. I try to be a role model and help show them what’s possible and all that you can do while living gospel principles.”