With Carson and Johnson on display today, state has rarely had finer momentby Javier Morales on Jan. 19, 2013, under Sports
This is an example of what you will find at Javier Morales’ Web site: WILDABOUTAZCATS.net
The Class of 2011 recruiting year was unlike most in the Arizona-Arizona State basketball rivalry, dating all the way back to 1978 when Pueblo High School star Lafayette “Fat” Lever decided to attend ASU instead of going to Colorado or San Diego State.
Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson, each top-flight recruits from the Phoenix area, were both recruited by Arizona. Carson, from Mesa High School, made that recruiting year unique by committing to ASU on Aug. 20, 2010. Since Lute Olson came to Tucson in 1983, the Wildcats generally have signed the top recruits from the Valley of the Sun.
Johnson, who attended Gilbert Highland for two years before transferring to Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep as a junior, verbally committed to Arizona two days before Carson announced his decision. The Wildcats recruited Carson during the 2010 AAU summer tournaments, but coach Sean Miller had his sights on Josiah Turner at point guard in that recruiting class.
Carson did not want to wait for Turner to decide (Turner eventually committed to Arizona on Sept. 18, 2010). Carson became Herb Sendek’s most substantial recruit from Arizona. Corey Hawkins, the state’s career leading scorer from Goodyear Estrella Foothills, is nowhere close in talent. He is now with UC-Davis after one season with the Sun Devils.
Carson is the Sun Devils’ most touted in-state recruit since Lever graduated from Pueblo in 1978 and played for Ned Wulk‘s talent-laden teams at ASU.
Former ASU forward Chad Prewitt, a Phoenix Greenway product, excelled with the Sun Devils, earning All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2001-02. When Prewitt graduated from Greenway in 1998, however, Olson picked up the top recruit in the state — Richard Jefferson from Phoenix Moon Valley.
When Lever signed with ASU in 1978, the Sun Devils’ program was more appealing than Arizona’s because Fred Snowden started to decline after coaching the Wildcats to the 1976 Elite Eight. Wulk’s teams featured the likes of Lever, Lionel Hollins, Byron Scott, Mark Landsberger, Alton Lister, Kurt Nimphius and Sam Williams in the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.
Lever’s retired No. 12 jersey number hangs from the Wells Fargo Arena rafter, similar to the No. 10 at McKale Center worn by Arizona’s Mike Bibby, who grew up in Phoenix and attended Shadow Mountain High School.
The long list of top-notch Phoenix and Tucson talent that chose Arizona over ASU and others includes Sean Elliott, Deron Johnson, Bibby, Jefferson, Channing Frye, Jerryd Bayless and Daniel Bejarano.
In recent years, top Tucson-area players such as former Santa Rita guard Terrell Stoglin (Maryland) and Palo Verde guard Bryce Cotton (Providence) have excelled elsewhere.
During Lever’s freshman season, ASU and Arizona played their first regular-season game as the opener for both teams. The teams played three times (one non-conference opener and two conference games) from the 1976-77 to 1978-79 seasons. In the last game of the arrangement in 1978, Lever started his collegiate career playing in his hometown at McKale Center against the Wildcats.
He forced a jump ball with 53 seconds remaining and made the game-winning basket that was ruled as goal-tending by Arizona’s Larry Demic with 23 seconds left in ASU’s 84-82 comeback victory. The Wildcats blew a 82-76 lead with 3:40 remaining. Lever finished with 13 points.
Lever, who was not recruited substantially by Snowden, finished his ASU career with 1,137 points, 444 assists and 236 steals. He was 8-1 in his career against the Wildcats.
“People here were telling me it’s the wrong decision,” Lever was quoted as saying by The Arizona Daily Star in 1999. “That I should have stayed home or have gone someplace else. But they have enough guards there. I didn’t think I’d fit in.”
Wulk compared Lever to Hollins when Lever signed with ASU in April 1978. The Wildcats had one of their best backcourts in the pre-Olson years with Russell Brown manning the point and deft shooter Joe Nehls at the off-guard position. Nehls was a junior and Brown a sophomore when Lever started his ASU career in 1978-79.
Similarly, the recruitment of Carson cooled for Arizona when Turner — deemed a Five-Star recruit by Rivals.com — looked as though he would play for Arizona. Turner became Miller’s most-publicized recruit, but he is no longer with the program after a tumultuous freshman season.
Carson was forced to sit out last season because of academic reasons. He is thriving in Sendek’s new transition-style offense and man-to-man defense.
He is averaging 17.1 points per game and 5.2 assists per game. No freshman has averaged at least 17 points and five assists since Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway in 1996-97 with 17.3 points and 6.3 assists.
“He makes everybody better,” Miller said of Carson during Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. “An electric player. A fun guy to watch. He gets the ball out in transition. He gets his teammates easy shots, and then you look at how easy it is for him to get to the foul line and score.”
Carson and Johnson meet for the first time at the collegiate level Saturday when Arizona plays ASU at Wells Fargo Arena. The teams are each 3-1 in the Pac-12 and their overall records are impressive — Arizona at 15-1 and ASU at 14-3.
Bibby, serving as a volunteer coach with Shadow Mountain (where his son is a freshman guard), and Frye (not with the Suns this season because of an enlarged heart that requires rest) will possibly attend the game.
With Carson and Johnson on display, following their much-publicized AAU and high school careers, the talent-deprived state of Arizona has never had a day like that at least since the era when Snowden and Wulk coached the programs.
More Arizona-ASU coverage at WILDABOUTAZCATS.net:
- No. 7 Arizona (15-1, 3-1) at ASU (14-3, 3-1): Breaking down the showdown at Wells Fargo Arena
- Nothing But The Notes: One segment shows how ASU is much more reliant on its starters than Arizona
- Arizona-ASU outcome very significant for Herb Sendek and Sean Miller for different reasons
- The site’s unique Pac-12 Productivity Report
WILDABOUTAZCATS.net writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner