Coach Carter is a 2005 American biographical sports drama film directed by Thomas Carter. It is based on the true story of Richmond High School basketball coach Ken Carter (portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson), who made headlines in 1999 for suspending his undefeated high school basketball team due to poor academic results.
In 1999, Ken Carter takes over the head coaching job for the basketball team at his former high school Richmond, having played on the team himself and earning records. Carter quickly sees that the athletes are rude and disrespectful, and are in need of discipline. He hands the players individual contracts, instructing them to attend all of their classes, sit in the front row of those classes, wear dress shirts and ties on game days, refer to everyone (players and coach alike) as “sir”, and maintain a 2.3 (C+) grade point average, among other requirements. Carter also asks the school staff for progress reports on the players’ grades and attendance. He teaches them to play a disciplined brand of basketball.
In the gym, Carter is faced by hostility from the players and one of them, Timo Cruz attempts to punch him but he stops him by putting his arm on his back and pushing him against the wall. Cruz quits the team in anger along with two other players, the previous season top scorers. Carter warns them that, if they are late for practice, then they will run suicides (a type of sprint touching the court’s lines), and, if they act disrespectfully towards him, then they will do push-ups. He then orders them to do a series of suicides for one hour to improve their conditioning. Later, Carter’s son, Damien, decides to join the team, after quitting the private school St. Francis. Shocked, Carter asks why he did this, and Damien tells him that he wants to play for his father. Carter reluctantly agrees but holds his son to a higher set of standards than the rest of the team.
Kenyon Stone struggles to come to terms with his girlfriend, Kyra who is pregnant, unsure if he can juggle basketball and prepare for college as well as being a parent. In their opener against Hercules, Cruz watches the team win and then asks Carter what he has to do to get back on to the team. Carter agrees but on one condition: he needs to do 2,500 push-ups and 1,000 suicides before Friday.
During a practice, Carter tells Cruz to give up because it is impossible to complete all of the push-ups and suicides by Friday. When the day arrives, Cruz has not been able to finish but the team helps him by doing some of his push-ups and suicides, getting him back on the team. On a game day, Carter asks Cruz what his biggest fear is, and Cruz is confused by the question. Later, the team won the game. Carter learns that one particular student does not attend classes: Junior Battle. Later in practice, Carter talks to Battle, who does not seem to be worried about it, so Carter suspends him for games. After a confrontation, Battle leaves the team in anger. Afterward, Battle’s mother asks Carter to let him back on the team. Carter says that he needs to hear that from Battle himself. Battle apologizes for what he did and is allowed back on the team, but is told that he had to do 1,000 push-ups and 1,000 suicides to make up for it.
At the winter dance, Stone talks to his girlfriend about the baby and says he does not want to live that way. He asks her what she’s going to do after the baby is born and believes that she would not know what to do. She angrily tells him that she is having the baby with or without his support.
The team goes on to have an undefeated record, eventually winning the Bay Hill Holiday tournament. The team goes off to a party hosted in a girl’s house, without the knowledge of her parents. After looking for the players to celebrate, Carter goes to the house and orders his team to leave. In the bus going home, Carter criticizes his team for their reckless behavior, while Cruz points out that they won the tournament and already gave Carter what he wanted: winners. Back at school, Carter discovers that the progress reports show that some of the students have been skipping classes and failing academically. Enraged, Carter locks the gym and sends his players to the library to study with their teachers. This upsets the players, especially Cruz, who quits the team again, stating that he had tried so hard to do all those push-ups and suicides for Carter, to get back on the team in the first place.
Later, although this priority to good values is praised in the national media, Carter is criticized by parents and academic personnel alike for his decision to lock down the gym and forfeit their championship game. One night, someone throws a brick through Carter’s store window for not letting the team play. The next day, a man pulls up next to Carter’s car at a stoplight then proceeds to spit on his window, taunting him about his decision to lock down the gym. Carter became enraged and tries to hit him, but Damien breaks up the fight. Later that evening, while Cruz is hanging out with his drug dealer cousin Renny, he saves three of his teammates from being harassed by some gangsters, but when the drug deal goes wrong, his cousin is shot dead, leaving Cruz distraught. Cruz goes to the Carters’ house and begs to be allowed back on the team. Carter comforts him and allows it.
The school board eventually confronts Carter, who explains how he wants to give his team the opportunity and option for further education so that they won’t resort to crime, asserting that achieving a sound education is more important for the students than winning basketball games. Carter states that he wants to prevent his players from resorting to crime. A man suggests that Carter should be removed from the basketball coach position, which the board does not have the power to decide that, which then leads him to suggest that they should end the lockout. Carter promises that he will quit if the lockout is ended. Principal Garrison and the chairman vote to not end the lockout, but the other board members (four) vote in favor of ending it. Carter is shocked to find his players in the gym with desks and teachers, studying and working to bring their grades back up. The athletes decided to fulfill Carter’s original intention of them pursuing academic achievement before continuing to play their next game. Cruz answers Carter’s question about fear and thanks him for saving his life. They work hard and eventually raise their grade point average to a point that fulfills their contracts. Later, Stone talks to Kyra about the baby and worked it out so she and the baby go to college with him. She reveals that she had an abortion and it was her choice and tells Kenyon that he should go play basketball in college. He asked Kyra come with him to college with or without the baby and she agreed.
The Oilers eventually end up competing in the state CIF high school playoffs, but come up short to St. Francis by just 2 points after a game-winning three-point shot by rivals Ty Crane. Nevertheless, Carter is proud of his players accomplishing their goals of having a proper education. The film’s epilogue displays a series of graphics stating that a number of players went on to attend college and play basketball, such as Kenyon, Lyle, Junior, “Worm”, Cruz, and Damien.