ASU’s idled Carson draws inspiration from MLK

TEMPE, Ariz. – Some might have looked to transfer. Others might have been let themselves be shaped by a well-meaning but ill-informed posse.
In Jahii Carson’s time of trial, he turned to Martin Luther King Jr.
After learning he was ineligible to play at Arizona State this season, Carson had King’s message regarding character tattooed on the inside of his right forearm over the Christmas break.
In six lines of script, it reads: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
ASU’s top recruit, Carson was looking for something to inspire him when came across those words while watching videos of King collected by his mother, Vanae, who teaches African-American history at Central Arizona College.
“When things don’t go a man’s way, how does he overcome adversity?” Carson said.
“I’m trying.”
Pac-12 opponents will be able get a good look at the inscription when Carson flicks his shooting arm forward on a jumper, or when he throws down a dunk. He dunked at age 13, when he was 5-foot-3, according to his ASU bio.
But Carson  has been forced to do all of his playing on the practice court this year, and he has shown signs of the type of game that landed him on the USA under-19 national team last summer. In a recent five-on-five scrimmage, he pushed the ball down the floor and made three consecutive 3-point field goals, one outside of NBA range. He ended the session by making 15 straight free throws.
“Watching my team struggle a little bit and not being able to help them in time of need is something that is more frustrating than anything. I think I would have helped in being able to cut down the turnovers and to bring a little bit of defensive intensity and overall intensity to the game,” said Carson, who was the No. 33-rated high school prospect in the nation following his last two seasons at Mesa High.
His name – Jahii Karenja – means “to lead with dignity” in the Swahili language, and he is trying his best to do that.
“I’m motivated to push my team for the last stretch of the season. I want to motivate my team and motivate myself to reach my own goals,” he said.
It has been a trying season all the way around – for Carson, now 5-10, and for coach Herb Sendek and his staff. Sendek installed an up-tempo offense that would run through Carson but was forced to reconsider when unforced turnovers began to pile up.
“There’s no question there was frustration on everybody’s part,” assistant coach Scott Pera said. “But honestly, when Jahii is on the court, I don’t see it much at all. He loves to play basketball, and when he is on the court playing, I don’t think he thinks about much else.

“The last month or so has probably been the first solid month or so when he is in full basketball shape, playing every day. Now you are really starting to see him dominate our practices in some ways. He has an extra gear with the ball, in terms of his speed and his athleticism, and he shoots the ball real well. I know he is very anxious and looking forward to next year.”
Carson said he considered prep schools such as Findlay Prep in Las Vegas and Windward Prep in Los Angeles when academics first became an issue over the summer and early fall. He chose to try to work through it at ASU, eventually falling one point short of qualification on his second ACT exam.
“I just felt like being here, on campus, in the dorm, taking classes, was the best thing for me,” he said. “I didn’t want to go through the high school stuff again. I wanted to be here supporting Arizona State basketball.”

“I don’t think it’s hurt me any. I am still preparing for the next season, being able to practice. I’ve been able to keep my game tight, my game in tune. If I get a chance to go back to USA (national team), that would help me even more. I was a young guy. They pulled me along and helped me.”
ASU almost certainly would not be sitting at 9-20 entering its regular-season finale against Arizona on Sunday had Carson played, and he sees brighter days ahead. 
“Definitely. With the athletes we have … a lot of people think we don’t have athletes, but Carrick Felix might be one of the most athletic guys in the country. Trent Lockett, also. I think we can get out and get some good tempo going and surprise teams,” Carson said.
Carson could regain a year of eligibility if he continues to make the necessary academic progress, but that is a long time down the road.
“I try not to think about anything past college,” he said. “I want to stay here and see how my first season goes and see how successful I am. And build a relationship with my team and hopefully make the NCAA tournament.”

Follow Jack Magruder on Twitter