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Film / Coach Carter

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Cruz: Teachers ain't supposed to touch students.
Carter: I'm not a teacher,...I'm the new basketball coach.

Coach Carter is a 2005 sports drama film Based on a True Story about high-school basketball coach Ken Carter who demanded academic excellence from his students, trying to change the culture of a sports-dominated school. He was so determined that when the team's grades slipped, he cancelled the team's games outright, including one with a rival school, despite protests from the other students and the parents. Think Lean on Me but with a basketball team and Samuel L. Jackson as the "Crazy" Joe Clark if he was a basketball coach.

Tropes featured include:

  • Adults Are Useless: Unless they are Coach Carter. The film plays this trope pretty straight, but eventually the parents come around specifically Junior Battle's mother.
  • Advertised Extra: Commercials prior to the film be released hyped up Ashanti as being one of the lead actors. She ended up being a really minor character.
  • An Aesop:
    • High school athletics is not about being a sports star, it's about developing values that will lead to success after school.
    • Giving up on future success for kids is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, and the adults in their lives have a responsibility to challenge them and offer support.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • When Coach Carter berates the team for sneaking off to a party, Cruz asks him that they won the game so what else did he want from them, which makes him realize that they were not understanding the values he was trying to teach them alongside the plays.
    • When Kyra tells Kenyon that she will have her baby to which he replies, "And then what?" She simply storms off without saying a word.
    • Also:
      Principal: Your intentions are good, Mr. Carter, but your methods [locking the gym until every player gets at least a 2.3 GPA] are a bit extreme.
      Carter: You painted an extreme picture. No one expects them to graduate, no one expects them to go to college.
      Principal: So you take away basketball. The one area of their lives where they have some success?
      Carter: Yes ma'am.
      Principal: And you challenge them academically?
      Carter: Yes ma'am.
      Principal: And what if they fail?
      Carter: Then we've failed.
      Principal: Unfortunately, Mr. Carter, both you and I know that for some of these kids, this basketball season will be the highlight of their lives.
      Carter: Well, I think that's the problem. Don't you?
  • Artistic License – History: Several instances mentioned here. But one popular example is Coach Carter being portrayed as having earned a basketball scholarship to Division I school George Mason University. In real life, Carter didn't attend George Mason. He attended George Fox University, a Division III school in Oregon.
  • Badass Teacher: Coach Carter. At the start, he wasn't taking any attitude from the team and called them out on their fall-backs, such as using the N-Word, taunting during the game, etc. He managed to whip his team into shape thanks to this and has turned them into successful men at the very end.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The team narrowly loses the championship game against St. Francis, but the solidarity and self-respect that they gained means more than winning. In addition, many of the team members went on to college and had successful lives.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with Richmond losing a basketball game against St. Francis.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Ty Crane.
  • Class Clown: Worm.
  • Delinquents: How the team is viewed, but Carter finds out that they just need some guidance and someone to think that they can do better than what is expected of them.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Coach Carter, but that's no surprise.
  • Death Wail: Upon witnessing his cousin, Renny, was gunned down after a drug deal gone wrong, Cruz screams in agony while holding the injured Renny.
  • The Determinator: Surprisingly, Timo. He goes through a excruciating gauntlet of physical tasks just to get back on the team he walked out on. Then he drags his academic record out of the gutter to meet Coach Carter's contract, even after the school board ruled that he didn't have to.
  • Down to the Last Play: Quite literally in their final game. After coming back from a rough first half, Richmond stays dead even with St. Francis down to the very last second.
  • Dumb Jock: Most of the team except Damien, and especially Junior, who has difficulty reading and hardly shows up to class. They work their butts off to avert this trope in the end.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Junior and his mother.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted. Kyra ends up aborting her pregnancy and is not demonised for it.
  • Foreshadowing: St. Francis defeats the Richmond Oilers in the preseason game in a Curb-Stomp Battle, right before Coach Carter takes over as coach. It happens again during the championship game, although in a less emphatic victory.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Despite the lockout causing them to forfeit several games, Richmond still makes it into the State Championships. However, they're ranked dead last, and their very first match is against the Number 1 seed, who very narrowly defeats them.
  • Jerkass: Most of the team, at first. They get better.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Timo. Sure, he's an arrogant hothead, but most of it is to mask his fear of becoming great.
  • Large Ham: Samuel L. Jackson himself.
  • Logo Joke: The Paramount logo briefly turns into a version doodled in a notebook.
  • Loophole Abuse: When Coach Carter slams Timo against the wall.
    Timo: Teachers ain't supposed to touch students.
    Carter: I'm not a teacher. I'm the new basketball coach.
  • Mama Bear: Junior's mother. Justified because her other son lost his life and so she became incredibly protective of Junior as a result.
  • Meaningful Echo: "What is your deepest fear?"
  • Moral Myopia: Timo admonishes Coach Carter for restraining him aggressively, saying, "Teachers ain't supposed to touch students!"... after he just attempted to knock Carter out.
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: The film makes it clear that while the local community may be complaining about Carter benching the team because their violation of their contract such as having adequate marks in class while sitting in the front row, and wearing a tie on game days, the Bob Costas interview shows that the national media is on Carter's side on his focus on good values.
  • Never Say "Die": Renny's fate is never explicitly stated.
  • N-Word Privileges: Defied by Coach Carter in a rather eloquent speech.
    Carter: Nigga is a derogatory term used to insult our ancestors. See, if a white man used it, you'd be ready to fight. Your using it teaches him to use it. You're saying it's cool. Well, it's not cool, and when you're around me, I don't want to hear that shit! Are we clear?!
  • Oppose What You Suffered: By proxy. Carter was a serious student in addition to being a star athlete, and went on to lead a successful career. Meanwhile, several of his similarly-talented teammates had nothing to fall back on when their basketball careers ended in high school, and ended up in jail or dead. Carter is trying to avoid a similar fate for his team.
  • One-Steve Limit: Played with. Coach Carter's full name, in real- and in reel-life, is Kenny Ray Carter. Kenyon's girlfriend Kyra sometimes calls him "Kenny" as a pet name.
  • Only Sane Man: Damien. Except when his teammates get him drunk at the Bay Hill girl's party. Kenyon, despite dealing with the burdens of having a pregnant girlfriend, often fits this trope as well.
  • Papa Wolf: Coach Carter in regards to his team.
  • Save Our Students: Coach Carter serves to get the students to improve their schoolwork in the hopes of better futures.
  • Save Our Team: What Carter was originally hired to do. Last season, the team only had a measly four wins. Despite this, many of the players were somewhat skilled, they just lacked the focus, solidarity, and discipline of a winning team until Carter came along.
  • Scary Black Man: Samuel L. Jackson again!
  • Secret Test of Character: Carter's stringent conditions for Timo to rejoin the team after storming out on him are impossible on purpose. The challenge was designed to test both Timo's commitment to rejoining and his willingness to stick to a goal in spite of the odds, as well as allow him to keep pace with the rest of the team's conditioning. It also ends up being this for the rest of the team, as they all pitch in to do the remainder of Cruz's tasks for him to show their solidarity.
  • Serious Business: This is how the school reacts when Carter locks the gym and cancels games. As for Carter, he makes it clear it to them that basketball should not be taken that seriously compared to good grades and going to college.
  • Skewed Priorities: A lot of the parents seem more concerned that their kids can't play basketball than the fact that they all attend a failing school, rarely attend class, and are barely literate. The teachers who protest Coach Carter's lockout are upset because his requests for progress reports creates more work for them, and resent the media attention he gets because it makes them look bad at their jobs.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: St. Francis MVP Ty Crane, who's touted to be an NBA draft shoo-in and "the next LeBron James". He ultimately shows some class after a hard-fought victory.
  • So Proud of You: Despite losing to St. Francis, Coach Carter says this to his team for playing a hard-fought game, doing the impossible, and achieving victory within.
  • Strong, but Unskilled: Richmond's team is actually good at the start...individually. However, they lack discipline, the ability to work as a team, and the physical conditioning necessary to execute championship-level play. They gain all of them under Carter.
  • Sucky School: Unbelievably so, and with a principal to match.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Coach Carter, several times especially out of frustration towards the team.
  • Token Minority:
    • In this film, it's actually a white character on the basketball team, Jason, played by Channing Tatum.
    • Aside from Jason Lyle, the Oilers have another white player and an Asian, both of whom don't have any lines. Otherwise, the team consists of African-Americans and Latinos.
  • Tough Love: Despite Coach Carter’s way to educate or train his boys initially seemed cruel, the students and Principal Garrison could finally see that Carter force them to push their limits because he just wants his boys to have self-respect and many options for the future; not just be the best Basketball players, but also smart in academy given that athletic careers are usually short-term.
  • Training from Hell: Carter sure put the team through the grinder. Even the slightest infraction was punishable by several hundred pushups and suicide drills. Even forcing them to make 50 free throws before they can leave practice.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: This is Carter's approach to the team as a whole, but primarily for Timo, who is self-destructive due to his fear of failure.