TEMPE, Ariz. — NBA advisers told freshman Jahii Carson the obvious, that he definitely would be drafted in April. It was not enough to convince Carson to leave Arizona State, and he announced his decision to remove his name from draft consideration at an on-campus love-in Tuesday evening.
Leaving school early was no guarantee of success last season, and when Carson does it, he wants to make a difference. Lottery pick Jeremy Lamb was demoted to the NBA Developmental League this year. Bradley Beal has been a part-time contributor. So has Austin Rivers.
After displaying the ability to take over games from his point guard position last year, it made sense to Carson to return to school, hone his jump-shooting skills, and go through the process next year, when the scenario is likely to play out again. Arizona’s Jerryd Bayless remains the only one-and-done player in state college history.
“Continue to try to build a legacy at Arizona State,” Carson said at a press conference that included his mother and father, ASU players and students, athletic director Steve Patterson, hip-hop music and a video montage of on-court highlights from the 23-12 season.
“I want to be a more consistent player still,” Carson said, calling it a decision he made ”with his heart.”
No one was more valuable to the Sun Devils last season than Carson, who averaged 18.1 points and 5.1 assists a game while being named the Pac-12 co-freshman of the year with UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, who is expected to declare for the draft.
Carson was a member of the Pac-12 all-tournament team after scoring a career-high 34 points against Stanford on March 13. He was three assists short of the second triple-double in school history with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in an 83-68 victory over Detroit in the first round of the NIT on March 20.
College and pro scouts at the Pac-12 and the NCAA tournaments said they believed Carson needed to improve his outside shooting to complement his game, which includes an explosive ability to get to the basket. California and former Golden State Warriors coach Mike Montgomery said the same thing on a conference call earlier this season.
“There is no question. He really improved as a shooter this year, and I think that definitely is on his bucket list,” ASU coach Herb Sendek said. “He said it himself, and that’s an area I think he is going to work hard on this summer.
“With his ball quickness, the more range and the better his shot becomes, he is going to be that much more difficult to defend.”
Carson is a vital returnee for the Sun Devils, 22-13 a year ago, who will lose all-Pac-12 forward Carrick Felix and reserves Ruslan Pateev and Chris Colvin. Carson, seniors-to-be Jordan Bachynski and Evan Gordon and junior-to-be Jonathan Gilling will be the nucleus moving forward.
Carson’s scoring average was the seventh-highest for a freshman in Pac-12 conference history, and second to Ike Diogu (19.0 points, 2002-03) among school freshmen. James Harden, who played two years at ASU before turning pro, averaged 17.8 points a game in 2007-08.
Sendek called Carson’s situation an almost perfect parallel to the one Harden faced after his first season. Harden returned to school for a second year, was the No. 3 player taken in the draft after his sophomore season and signed a five-year, $80 million contract with Houston last summer.
“James after his first year knew he could be a draft pick, but thought he still had some things he had to address,” Sendek said. ‘He did it. And it worked out very well for him.”
Sendek was so pleased that he sent out a letter to season-ticket holders asking them to attend Carson’s press conference Tuesday evening. Carson said he consulted his parents, Sendek and ASU assistant coaches Eric Musselman and Larry Greer about the decision. Musselman has a long history of developing point guards.
“Obviously for the sake of our team. you want a good player,” Sendek said.
“But when you are in my position, and I’ve been here fortunately a few times … it is a good thing to have a player who has that kind of decision to make … you really want to help guide them to do the right thing. You kind of have to set aside any of your personal hopes and desires and take the highest road possible to help that young man make the best decision possible for his future.”