THE SIXERS knew Michael Carter-Williams possessed a rare set of skills for any NBA rookie. They knew he could handle the ball; that he had good court vision and passing skills; that he could finish in the lane and might develop a jump shot.
They knew he had intangible skills, too: court presence, high character, a fine work ethic.
They did not - they could not - know that MCW knew how to lose.
That skill has come in handy this season.
The Sixers fell to 15-40 last night after Cleveland cruised to a 114-85 win in the teams' first game after the All-Star break. The Sixers have lost nine in a row and 12 of 13.
It is the sort of season that can instill a culture of losing; that can create an atmosphere of defeatism. It can ruin a young player. If the young player it ruins is expected to be the franchise's leader for the next decade, the ruination can be particularly disastrous.
Carter-Williams seems unfazed.
As it turns out, he is uncommonly equipped to endure this season of failures and embarrassments.
In high school, most blue-chip recruits find themselves tucked away at a posh prep school of their choice, usually on scholarship, surrounded by teenage players who, like themselves, are expected to play at some college level. Those teams generally clobber the competition.
So it was with Carter-Williams . . . except for the clobbering part.
In his first season at St. Andrew's School in Barrington, R.I., Carter-Williams was part of a team that lost 19 of its 30 games.
"Going through that definitely was a struggle, but it helped me for situations I'm in now," Carter-Williams said last night. "I just try to stay poised, stick to my game plan."
He was just a gangly sophomore, but he expected to win. He had started as a freshman at his hometown public school, Hamilton-Wenham High, and led that team to an 18-3 record.
"It was hard on him," said St. Andrew's coach Michael Hart. "We didn't have a lot of talent around Michael that first season. But we knew we were going to get better. He knew that, too."
Measured by wins, the Sixers are the second-worst team in the NBA.
Measured by talent, they might be worse than second-worst.
This is expected to change, of course. The Sixers managed to get Nerlens Noel, the consensus No. 1 pick in the draft before he hurt his knee at Kentucky, in a draft-night deal after he was the sixth pick last June. He will miss this season but he should contribute plenty next season. The Sixers will have two first-round picks, too, as well as some salary-cap room with which to reconfigure their roster.
None of that helps on nights like last night, when Carter-Williams' team stood no real chance against All-Star Game MVP Kyrie Irving and a hungry Cavs frontcourt.
The promise of the future affords little solace when MCW draws the defense to himself, twice, then fires passes across the court . . . to teammates unprepared to receive them.
As a kid, MCW might have scolded his teammates. Now, he just grabs his head and runs downcourt.
"Yeah, he was young. Had some . . . um . . . sportsmanship issues," Hart said, chuckling. "I talked to him several times that first season."
Genius seldom suffers fools kindly.
"There were a couple of times, I was just being hard on people, and I lashed out at my teammates," Carter-Williams admitted. "I might have been a little too competitive in practice and gotten into it with guys. I was young. I had to fix those mistakes."
Carter-Williams bit his tongue and made amends, Hart said, but the real fix came the next two seasons. St. Andrew's won 50 games his last two seasons there, and he left having scored 2,260 points in three seasons.
He went to Syracuse University, where, in two seasons, he helped the Orange go 64-13 and reach the Final Four last year.
There were other challenges, Hart pointed out. MCW missed the first 10 games of his junior season in high school with a leg injury. He played sparingly at SU as a freshman.
And, of course, there was the issue of being away from his close, attentive family at St. Andrew's.
He was a star ballplayer on a team with a tradition of winning, and he was also a lonely, 15-year-old kid in a boarding school 90 miles from home.
"Yeah, there were times I considered leaving," he said. "I think the times when I missed my family, I considered leaving.
"But it was never because of us losing."
The Sixers have the right man for this job.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch