TEMPE, Ariz. — Jahii Carson spent his busiest summer in camps across the country, testing himself against some of the other best young guards in the nation. New pros such as Jeff Teague and Austin Rivers. College players Russ Smith, Aaron Craft, Shabazz Napier, Kevin Pangos. It went well and supplied a confidence boost to the already confident Carson.
Just as relevant to his final season at Arizona Sate may be his more mundane daily routine.
Carson has made it a priority to strengthen his left hand, and it shows in the smallest ways. He brushes his teeth with his left hand. He opens doors with his left. He unties his shoes with his left hand. It is all done in the name of improving his game, a strategy he learned while reading about pro tennis sisters Venus and Serena Williams.
“Trying to get a little muscle memory,” Carson said. “They would try to do everything with the left to make that backhand that much stronger. I think it worked for them.”
Carson has noticed results.
“I feel it. I can do a few things with my left that I couldn’t do before,” he said. “Now when they make me go left, it is not a problem. I’ll go. I can finish with the left.”
Just one more reason why Carson’s last season could be his best and vault him into the NBA lottery round next summer.
Carson was a first-team All-Pac-12 player and the league’s co-freshman of the year in his first season of eligibility last season, averaging 18.5 points and 5.1 assists a game, second in the league in scoring and third in assists.
The departure of Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe and co-freshman of the year Shabazz Muhammad has created a vacuum at the top that Carson, even at 5-foot-10, seems as capable as anyone in the league of filling this season.
He spent the summer at Nike-sponsored camps headlined by LeBron James and Deron Williams and at the adidas Nations camp in Southern California. The only other Pac-12 players at James’ camp in Las Vegas the first week of July were Oregon guards Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson.
One evaluator called Carson “the top pure point guard” at the Williams skills camp, which also included Artis and UConn guard Ryan Boatright. Carson “showed the ability to find teammates and make passes to set them up,” the report continued, “He is extremely quick and difficult to contain off the dribble. He can score a bit, though his outside shot needs more consistency. Overall, it was a strong performance for Carson.”
Carson, so quick that he seldom could be stopped from going to the basket in his younger days, would like to continue to improve his mid-range and 3-point shooting after making 33-of-103 3-point attempts last season.
“I’m definitely going to incorporate that more into my game in the early season, because I was mostly going to the basket early on,” Carson said. “That’s what I was mostly thinking about, basket, basket, basket. Then when I started shooting the three, I wasn’t as confident. Now I’m going to incorporate it all — basket, jump shot, mid-range, 3-point, deep 3-point off the screen.”
ASU coach Herb Sendek again will allow Carson to run the show this season, which opens Nov. 8 against Maryland-Baltimore County. The Sun Devils might try to play at an even quicker tempo than they did while averaging 71.8 points a game last season.
“I obviously love his speed, his quickness, his ability to break defenses down,” Sendek said. “Get to the basket, get into the paint. And I love the fact that he performs when the lights are on. He makes big plays in crunch time. He’s a special player.”
The fact that Carson is back at all was in question last spring, when he got good reviews after submitting his name to be considered for the 2013 NBA draft. Carson was advised that he could be taken as high as No. 18, where Dallas took Shane Larkin. It was not an easy call.
“I was real close” to leaving, Carson said. “Any time more than half the teams tell you are a top 20 pick, it’s definitely something that you have to consider. But I want to be higher than that. That’s one of the reason I came back.
“I knew that I have the talent. I knew I had a tremendous year last year. I talked to a couple of people about the possible one-and-done situation, but I think the maturity of being in college for two years is a better fit. I see a lot of the one-and-done guys come in (to the NBA) and not being in the rotation. That’s not one of the guys I want to be. The more you stay in college, the more you mature and learn the game.”
Pac-12 guards Jared Cunningham and Tony Wroten, who left school early, were taken No. 24-25 in the 2012 draft, and nether got much time last season.
Conversations with Sendek, who had been through the early entry process with James Harden, and assistant coach Eric Musselman, a former NBA head coach, brought the decision into focus.
Carson also is taking a team-first approach.
“I look at what we are going to do during the season,” he said. “If I can help my team get to the (NCAA) tournament, I think that will really help my draft stock a lot.”