Carson set for final season with Sun Devils
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
Jahii Carson had as much pressure on him as any player in the country heading into last season, the hype of being counted on as a program savior inflated by sitting out a year.
The confident and quick Arizona State point guard handled the pressure better than almost everyone - well, maybe everyone except himself - could have expected.
''Certainly, Jahii had tremendous expectations going into his first year with us last season, and one of the things that I was most amazed with was his ability to handle that with grace and poise,'' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. ''And it just seemed like the brighter the lights, the bigger the stage, the better he played.''
Now it's time for his encore, which also happens to be his final act as a college player.
Carson considered leaving for the NBA after a stellar first season in the desert before deciding to return.
After this season there will be no contemplating; Carson and Sendek both say he's headed to the NBA after it's over.
And, after leaving his mark on the program as a freshman, he wants to leave a more indelible one on his way out.
''I want more,'' Carson said. ''I want to win more than 20 games, win the Pac-12 championship, the Pac-12 (regular season), get Pac-12 player of the year, All-American and get us a deep run in the tournament. I think that will be a nice way to end my last year.''
Carson has proven to be someone who can live up to expectations.
And he had plenty when he arrived in Tempe.
A star point guard at nearby Mesa High School, he was the player who was supposed to turn Arizona State around, get the Sun Devils back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
When he couldn't play as a freshman because of academics, the hyperbole only intensified, cries of ''Wait `til Jahii gets here'' coming from Arizona State fans as the Sun Devils struggled without him.
Carson certainly didn't disappoint.
A slight 5-foot-10, he was fearless against bigger opponents, using his speed and explosive leaping ability to blow past defenders and consistently get to the rim.
The first Arizona State freshman to start in 35 games, he led the Sun Devils in scoring at 18.5 points per game, seventh by a freshman in Pac-12 history. He also led them in assists at 5.1 and his 177 total were most by a freshman in Sun Devils history, sixth on the conference list.
Carson set numerous Arizona State freshman records, including points, field goals attempted and made, and assists. He was named the Pac-12's co-freshman of the year with UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, now in the NBA, and set an ASU record with 35 points against Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament, his 18th game with at least 20 points.
''Obviously, I love his speed and his quickness, his ability to break defenses down, get to the basket, get into the paint,'' Sendek said. ''And I love that fact that he performs when the lights are on. He makes big plays in crunch time. He's a special player.''
For all that Carson could do, he couldn't get the Sun Devils into the NCAA tournament. Arizona State won 22 games and set a school record with 16 home victories, but came up just short in an NCAA bid and played in the NIT.
Unfinished business was part of the reason Carson decided to come back.
''We can't end the year without that NCAA bid,'' Carson said. ''The NIT is OK, but that's not where were want to go.''
Carson spent the offseason working on his game and his body, preparing for his final college season and for when he gets to the NBA.
He hit the weight room, bulking up almost 15 pounds to around 180. Carson also went to basketball camps held by NBA players LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Deron Williams, both to work on his game and to prove that it matches up on the next level - which it did.
''I'll never say anyone's going to kill me and I compete every time,'' Carson said.
That competitiveness got him this far and should allow him to keep going, this season and beyond.