(NOTE: Here is a story from the Arizona Republic, our Gannett partner, on ASU freshman point guard Jahii Carson. ASU plays at Arizona on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams. Find more UA-ASU coverage at azcentral.com)
By Bob Young
The Arizona Republic
If Jahii Carson had decided while he still was a star at Mesa High to attend Arizona, he could have followed in the footsteps of a whole line of great Wildcats playmakers.
Eric Money. Steve Kerr. Khalid Reeves. Damon Stoudamire. Mike Bibby. Jason Terry. Jason Gardner. Jerryd Bayless.
Is it any wonder UA is known as “Point Guard U”?
Instead, Carson decided to leave his own footprints. He picked Arizona State.
“I don’t want to follow after other guys,” said Carson, ASU’s sensational freshman playmaker. “I wanted to try to impart my own footprints somewhere. The Arizona State coaches … everybody here embraced me with open hearts and open hands, and I felt they’d take care of me.”
The question now is how deep those footprints will be. If Carson doesn’t beat Arizona, which ASU visits Saturday, or doesn’t lead the Sun Devils to an NCAA Tournament before he leaves Tempe, presumably for the NBA, his tracks quickly will disappear.
“That’s something I definitely want to do,” he said. “I want to beat U of A multiple times and get to the NCAA Tournament multiple times. I want to try to leave a legacy here. And the things that leave a legacy are to beat U of A in a great rivalry, and to get to the NCAA Tournament and get some wins in the tournament. Those are things I want to get done before I graduate or leave here.”
Despite his size — Carson is listed at 5 feet 10 and 175 pounds — there is little doubt that he has the potential to play at the next level. But is he ready now?
California coach Mike Montgomery said this week on the Pac-12 coaches conference call that he doesn’t think so.
“Doesn’t shoot it well enough right yet,” Montgomery said. “His quickness to the basket is terrific, and he’s been a great playmaker. But at the end of the day you got to shoot the ball. It’s a skill game at the NBA level.
“You look at (former Washington standouts) Isaiah Thomas, (he) has shot the ball, Nate Robinson shoots the ball. Most of the guys can really shoot the ball. And then they use their quickness to get to the basket and set up other people. It’s hard for a guy that’s small to get to the basket and finish.”
Despite some speculation to the contrary, Carson’s readiness might not be an issue. He sounds nothing at all like a guy planning to be “one and done.”
In fact, while waiting for a Pac-12 Network interview, he chatted about using a rare day off to catch up on homework so he doesn’t have to worry about it next week. That doesn’t sound like someone with one foot out the door.
Who knows? Maybe Carson and the Sun Devils will fool everybody, upset Arizona on Saturday, make a run to the Pac-12 Tournament title and end up in the NCAA Tournament. Carson, who already is among the eight finalists for college basketball’s Wayman Tisdale Freshman of the Year Award, might decide that his college bucket list is covered.
But that’s all a long shot, which is what Carson would be if he came out after only one season on the court for ASU.
Fortunately for him, he’s in a unique situation. Coach Herb Sendek went out and hired a couple of former NBA coaches in the off-season, including former Golden State and Sacramento head coach Eric Musselman, who coached a couple of pint-sized point guards in Speedy Claxton and Earl Boykins; and Larry Greer, who had substantial experience in scouting for the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers before moving to the Portland bench.
Point is, Carson doesn’t have to go beyond the Weatherup Center practice court to get a straight assessment of his readiness. He said ASU’s staff has him working on improving his left hand, enhancing his mid-range game and learning to get shots off over opposing big men deep in the paint.
He is even trying to emulate some aspects of former NBA MVP Allen Iverson’s repertoire. Like Iverson, Carson is fearless in the lane and often pays the price.
“I’m a physical guy, and I can take the contact. I don’t shy way from it,” he said. “But sometimes it bothers me. I don’t complain to the refs or let it show. I just fight through it and deal with it.
“(Iverson) is one of the guys who could lay it high off the glass, get it up quick and find areas to score over the bigs. So that is definitely one of his crafts that I’m trying to master — getting it up before the big can get off the ground, and knowing which angles to use off the backboard.
“I can get to the basket pretty much anytime I choose to off the screen and roll. But I want to capitalize when I get into the lane.”
Carson agreed he wants to be a more consistent jump shooter and said he is getting comfortable with his off hand. But it’s evident that he knows there is work to be done on his game.
And maybe even more on his legacy.
“I think I’ve accomplished a lot, just helping my team a lot, but there are a lot of things to accomplish,” Carson said. “I don’t think I’m even close to accomplishing all the things I’ve dreamed of accomplishing here or that people expect of me. I want to get as much done here as I can.”