Ken Carter made national news in 1999 when, as the boys basketball coach at Richmond (CA) High School, he benched his entire team for not meeting his academic standards.

Carter decided the school's 2.0 minimum grade point average wasn't demanding enough, so he raised the bar to a 2.3, insisting that every player meet that goal, or no one would play. Halfway through the season with an undefeated team, several players missed the 2.3 mark-and Carter locked the gym and called off all practices and games. The move was unpopular with the players, their parents, the community and, surprisingly, even Carter's fellow teachers. He received harsh criticism in the Richmond community, but high praise throughout the nation for sticking to his principles.

The true story is coming to the big screen this week in Coach Carter, a Paramount Pictures film starring Samuel L. Jackson in the lead role. Jackson has said, "This is definitely not your typical story, and Ken Carter is not your typical guy. Both the story and Ken are about teaching young people to expect more from themselves and to see beyond their present."

We wanted to know more about the man behind the story, so we talked with Carter, who says Jackson was the only name on his "very short list of actors" he wanted to portray himself in the film. Carter, who insisted that his players call him "Sir," brought that same manner to our interview, using "Sir" frequently in our conversation.

How accurately do you think the film and Samuel L. Jackson portrayed you?

Ken Carter: Ninety-eight point five percent. I was there every step of the way with the production, with the writers, with Thomas Carter, the director. And Mr. Sam Jackson and I spent four months together going to basketball games and dinners. I talk with my hands, and you can see how he expressed himself, he used his hands a lot.

So he captured you pretty well.

Carter: Yes, sir.

You're obviously a man of principles. Where did your principles come from?

Carter: Sir, my family. When you hear that statement it takes a whole village to raise a child, I'm that child. The community raised me. My family is extremely close. I have seven sisters. I have one brother.

You grew up in a community with a lot of broken homes. Was your home intact?

Carter: Yes, sir. But only seven of the 45 kids I had in my [basketball] program had dads in the home.

What were you like as a teenager?

Carter: I just looked at life a little different. We used to go play ball and the other boys would come to the store and try to steal a soda. But I would get the broom and start sweeping up, and I would ask the storeowner, "Sir, I would like to earn a soda." And he always said, "Okay. Just finish that up." Sometimes I worked myself right into a job.

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What was your time like as a student at Richmond High?

Carter: I had a wonderful experience there. I used to leave class thinking I was one of the smartest individuals in the world. That's the way our teachers were. So I wanted our kids to have the same experience that I had when I was there.

When you were a student there, what were kids getting into?

Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of Ken Carter in the film

Samuel L. Jackson plays the role of Ken Carter in the film

Carter: The same problems that we have now. It's just that people are so lax on the kids now, so the kids just feel, "This is my right. I can do anything I want. I can say anything I want." Well, no, you can't. It's kind of funny. I was in the grocery store recently, and I saw two parents negotiating with a ten-year-old. Something's wrong with that picture.

When you were a student at Richmond, was it the academic mess that's portrayed in the movie, with only a small percentage of kids graduating and going to college?

Carter: More of us graduated, but it was still the same problems in the neighborhood. The neighborhood hasn't changed. Our goal is to change the neighborhood. When people are hurting, what do they do? They medicate themselves. That's what our community is doing, medicating themselves with alcohol and drugs. So I'm saying, "Look, fellows, only one in every 500,000 of you guys will get a chance to play professional sports. There's less than 5,000 jobs in all of professional sports that you can make a living. But one company, Microsoft, has over 10,000 millionaires in that one company."

Do they get the point?

Carter: Yes, they get the point. They do the math real quick.

I would always "give" our guys a hundred thousand dollars at the beginning of the season. I'd say, "To keep your hundred thousand dollars, you've got to make fifty-two dollars an hour. So if you goof off for an hour, it just cost you fifty-two dollars." So you just get them to thinking. I believe if you see it, you can be it. That's why I took the kids out of the community every chance I got.

Why did you raise the minimum GPA from the required 2.0 average to 2.3?

Carter: Some of our kids on the team had a 4.0; my son had a 3.7. But you win as a team or you lose as a team. And the kids who had excellent grades were not tutoring the kids who didn't have good grades. So we were trying to use positive peer pressure instead of negative peer pressure.

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So did the good students end up tutoring the struggling ones?

Carter: Yes. And you know what? We made the library a cool place to be. That was a miracle within itself.

The film implies that you got almost no support from anybody-not parents, not the community, not even your fellow teachers or the principal. Was that an accurate portrayal, that you were pretty much standing alone?

Carter: Yes. But think about it: The principal had to take care of fifteen hundred people in that school. I had to take care of forty-five in my program. So there were never any issues with our principal. But the community hated me. I was loved on Friday and hated by Monday. It was interesting that everybody outside of our community applauded my decision, but everybody within the community was saying Let these boys play. This is the greatest thing in their lives. I was going, "That's the problem. If this is going to be the greatest thing in their lives, we really have a problem."

Did you ever think about caving into the pressure? Did you ever think, Man, this just isn't worth it, maybe I ought to back off? Did that thought ever cross your mind?

Carter with one of his high school teams

Carter with one of his high school teams

Carter: Yes it did. I would fear for my safety and my family's safety. But what really validated the situation was this: I received a letter from a retired school teacher in Kansas, a lady in her mid-80s, and she sent me a dollar and a half. She said, "I'm on a fixed income. This is all I have. I would like to give you this for the boys. Stick to your guns." That validated me and I was ready to go.

Did you get any threats?

Carter: Yes, sir, on occasion. I don't know how serious they were, but anytime somebody threatened you, you'd have to take it seriously. But I'm a pretty tough guy, honestly. I wasn't going to let anybody just intimidate me.

Were there actually any death threats?

Carter: No, no. It didn't get that serious.

Anything where you had to call the police?

Carter: No, I just didn't let it get to that point. People knew they could always find me. People would constantly walk up to me and cuss me out. And there was that guy who spit on my window in the car.

Just like it happened in the movie?

Carter: Yes. And I got out of the car and started yelling at him.

And your son, Damian, had to calm you down?

Carter: Yeah. I was on the edge, you know what I mean? You don't go spitting on people.

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The film portrays you as a great role model, but Samuel Jackson also uses some choice language when talking to the kids. Did you sometimes use four-letter words with your players?

Carter: Yes I did. Because you have to learn how to communicate with them. See, if the kids believe in the messenger, they'll believe and receive the message. See, this is the thing: Education was always my goal. I just used basketball as the hook.

In the film, one particular kid keeps getting into trouble. You kept asking him, "What is it you fear?" What was that all about?

Carter when he played at Richmond High

Carter when he played at Richmond High

Carter: The reason I asked him this is because eighty percent of our self-talk every day is negative. I knew he was fighting the streets and trying to stay in school. I understood that. But I can't feel sorry for him and give him a break. I was harder on him than anybody else because that's what he understood. He was so mentally tough, with him if you give him an inch, he'll try to take a mile. So you have to be just consistent with the kids.

I understand that a number of your players beat the odds and went on to college.

Carter: Yes. These boys have character, sir, and they're going to go out in the world, do great things. And then they're going to come back to our community and they're going to change it one person at a time.

Now you're coaching SlamBall. I assume you're not getting the academic cream of the crop in that league. What's the difference in working with the players in SlamBall versus those high school kids?

Carter: Well, I use the same methods, sir, whether I'm coaching high school, college or pro. I'm going to hold you accountable. I'm going to make you have integrity. You feel me? We're going to work as a team. And you're going to be a leader. I always teach everybody that kindness and politeness and respect will never ever go out of style, sir.

Are the SlamBall players buying it?

Carter: They have no choice but to, sir. It's as simple as that.

For more information on Ken Carter, click here. For more on the film, click here.