Nico Carvacho vividly remembers how his childhood was spent.
"Every Saturday, every Sunday in the early morning hours, watching Premier League. Late at night, watching MLS with my dad," Carvacho recalled. "It was soccer, soccer, soccer.”
If he wasn't watching it, he was playing it. And his dad, Eduardo, known simply as Eddie, was his coach.
Raised in Chile, Nico shares how his father’s humble beginnings played a key role in shaping him into the person he is today.
“He grew up in Chile, playing in a dirt field in the neighborhood. When he was 18 he started practicing with a pro team.”
A goalie, it was the first time the elder Carvacho had received a true pair of gloves.
“When he was 19, he decided to come to the US and try to make it out here.”
With $500 in his pocket, Eddie bought a one-way plane ticket to the United States. Despite being born in the U.S, Eddie had never learned English before moving to his parents’ home country of Chile at the age of two.
Now, he was 19 and alone in a country where he couldn't even speak the native language. The only thing he had was the “American dream”.
Within a few months, Eddie had landed a job as a restaurant bus boy, earning enough money to purchase a car. He began the lengthy search for colleges holding open tryouts for their soccer programs. South Alabama, a Division 1 program eight hours away, gave him a shot.
Eddie would go on to become an All-American for the Jaguars and eventually work his way through the professional ranks. He even had a brief stint with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
He met his wife, Nicole Bibb, a member of the women’s basketball team, during his time in Mobile.
Eddie moved into coaching after he retired, starting at Clemson University before moving up to MLS. He has worked for Columbus Crew and FC Dallas.
In 1997, Nico was born in Nashville, Tennessee. Five years later, younger sister Gracelyn was added to the Carvacho household.
With mom standing just under 6 feet tall and dad at 6-foot-4, their two children were destined to be tall, athletic individuals. It was not a shock when Nico quickly showed promise in his father’s sport.
“When I was three, I started playing at the YMCA. I scored like 13 goals in my first game.”
As time passed, Nico only continued to grow, forcing the goal-hungry forward to switch to net, just like dad.
“I never really hit a grow spurt. I just grew continuously 2 or 3 inches a year. I never went from here to here, I just grew.”
The Carvacho’s moved south to Texas, enrolling the children into the Frisco school system. When Nico was just 14, he passed his father in height. It was at this time, that he sacrificed his normal life for that of a professional futbol player.
“I went down to Chile my sophomore year of high school. Left my friends, left my family. Stayed in like a group home. Practice, played with the youth team down in Chile for about 6 months,” Nico explained.
It was a heavy workload for the teenager but one that he expected, thanks to the discipline and coaching from his father. But no one expected what would happen when Nico returned home during Christmas break.
“I don’t know what hit me but I went to one of my high school games and I don’t know, I just think God was telling me like “Hey, play basketball.” And then out of nowhere, didn’t touch a soccer ball again. Just basketball.”
Nico admits his father wasn’t “the happiest to hear” he was switching to basketball, a sport he casually participated in with his friends in Frisco.
"He said it was my decision. He laid out the pros and cons of both. He didn't try to force me to play basketball or force me to play soccer. He said just go with your heart."
So basketball is was. And things moved quickly for the junior, who had less than two years to make a name for himself in a game he had never taken seriously.
“I had a lot of catching up to do,” Nico remembers with a smile.
Using connections from the Chilean youth soccer team, Nico made his way onto the Chilean youth basketball team. Even though soccer is the country’s (and most of the world’s) favorite sport, the game of basketball is growing in popularity.
“It’s definitely growing. They’re taking more pride in trying to make basketball bigger down there. They’re definitely doing the best they can to make it bigger.”
It’s widely considered that Chile’s current senior national team is their most talented in their 83-year history.
But get this--- there has never been a player of Chilean descent to ever play in the NBA.
“Obviously my goal is to make it to the NBA. Try to be the first one. But you know, [you] can’t jump ahead. You know, gotta go through the process.”
Steve Barnes, the associate head coach at CSU, wants to keep him in that exact mindset, saying bigs need more time to develop.
“He’s got a long, long way to go. There’s a lot of things that he has to get better at it but you can’t teach size. He’s got the size, he’s got the strength, he works at it…so can he play professionally? Yes. He’ll play professionally. But what level he plays at, is still back in Nico’s hands. And that’s the X-factor none of us know.”
The process has been grueling for the 20-year-old. After returning from Chile, Nico played one season at Frisco High before making another change of scenery, this time, to Wichita, Kansas.
A small Midwestern town, Wichita is the home of Sunrise Christian Academy, a prep school known for their elite athletic programs.
“It was basketball, basketball. 24-hour access to the gym. Small town, had 30 people in my class, graduation class, so it was just all basketball.”
This is a standard step for NBA hopefuls who leave the program with dozens of D1 scholarship offers. It was no different for Nico, except his mind was made up before he even stepped foot in the gym at Sunrise.
“I always had in mind that I was going to come here (Colorado State) to be honest, just cause of the loyalty.”
He’s speaking of the loyalty of Barnes, the coach that recruited him. A coach for the Bahamas youth team in 2013, Barnes met Carvacho at the FIBA U-16 Americas Championships.
“He was actually coming off a stress fracture and didn’t play too much but I saw him play and move. I saw his feet, I saw he had a feel for the game in a short period of time so from that decided to monitor him.”
Through Frisco and Sunrise, Barnes kept up with the still-growing young basketball star. And when the time was right, CSU was the first to call. That loyalty paid off when Nico accepted their offer shortly afterwards.
“Even when I got here, I redshirted. So, I still wasn’t where I needed to be. But that redshirt year definitely helped me.”
The first order of business was to pack on the pounds. Nico came to Fort Collins in 2015, sitting at 209 pounds, 6-foot-11. He now weighs 247.
“Well he hated it,” Barnes said with a chuckle. “He probably could have helped but I think it helped him a lot. It helped him wind up becoming a starter as a redshirt freshman which he might not have been able to do with the team we had at the time. It would be shame that he would be a junior now instead of a sophomore.”
Carvacho currently is first in rebounding, averaging eight boards a game. He's third in field goal percentage (45.9%) and fifth in points (126).
During CSU’s winter break, I took Nico to the indoor practice facility to see if his soccer touch had disappeared. We passed for a while, did some tricks, and played a quick round of “trash can soccer” (a game where you try to put the ball in a wastebasket from a specific distance). It was obvious the game of soccer and the memories he made while playing it had never left.
“I just miss the lights you know, scoring the game winning goal, the crowd, just those fun times,” Nico said, the ball lying at his feet. “When I went back home and played with my dad, he had me in goal. I wasn’t saving the shots I used to save but it’s crazy how you keep it though.”
When I asked if soccer had helped make him a better basketball player:
“For sure. You know, just the footwork, the agility. Being 6-foot-11 and being able to do some of the footwork I can do helps a lot.”
Even though he traded in the soccer ball and cleats for Jordan’s and an indoor gym, the dream has never changed.
“As a kid, my dream was to always play pro. When I was younger it was soccer and it turned into basketball you know and it’s always been the same dream.”