August 21, 2010

Sun Devils get big name addition in Carson

His name literally means "To lead with dignity."

He'll attempt to do so at Arizona State.

During an unofficial visit to the school Saturday, Mesa High School star Jahii Carson gave ASU coach Herb Sendek a verbal commitment. In doing so, he became the first elite point guard recruit from the state to elect to play for the hometown Sun Devils during the Pac-10 era.

Carson celebrated the decision along with his mother, father and several other family members who accompanied him to watch ASU players in a morning skill session at the program's Weatherup Center.

"We were all there and we watched the workout and some of the players and coaches play softball after the workout," Carson said. "Then we just met and talked about everything one more time and I told my parents I was ready and then I just made the commitment. Everyone was giving high fives and going crazy. It was pretty exciting."

For Sun Devil coaches, the word exciting is probably an understatement. Point guard was far and away their biggest position of need in the 2011 recruiting class and Carson, by all indications, far and away their top target.

Successfully addressing the void which could have occurred in the coming years at the position is one thing, but doing so with an extremely high profile recruit in their backyard is another thing entirely. Carson is the first in-state elite prospect to commit to the Sun Devils since media services began giving such accolades, a significant development to be sure.

"Since he came to ASU, coach Sendek has turned the program totally around," Carson said. "Me being an Arizona native, it would be common for me to go to Arizona and be a really good point guard. But I can be the first one in a really long time to come out of Arizona and go to Arizona State and be a really good point guard. So that's something that really appealed to me also."

Perhaps most importantly, the addition of Carson further eradicates the notion that Sendek can't successfully recruit elite targets. For the second year in a row he's now added a national Top-50 recruit -- Carson ranks No. 49 nationally by Rivals.com and freshman Keala King was No. 26 in the 2010 class -- into the fold, effectively silencing those who said such results would begin and end with James Harden.

The Sun Devils built on the addition of Harden with three consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since 1960-63 and have now stockpiled several high profile prospects upon which to attempt to take their program to additional heights. Carson is undoubtedly at the center of those plans.

After committing to Oregon State in the spring of 2009 things got a little quiet for the 5-foot-10 Carson. But then he transferred from Mountain Pointe High to Mesa, had a huge junior season, putting up averages of 23.5 points and 7.5 assists -- both school records -- and decided to re-open his recruitment.

What followed was a whirlwind of impressive spring and summer camp and AAU performances, which dramatically elevated Carson's stock and led to interest from some high profile national programs. Carson saw his ranking skyrocket to No. 49 overall and No. 10 at point guard nationally, with an additional bump likely in the next update.

No matter where he went in recent months, whether it was the Nike Youth Basketball League or NBPA Top-100 Camp or Deron Williams Skills Academy or the Nike Global Challenge, Carson excelled and was generally one of the best reviewed prospects of the off-season.

With that high level of play came reported offers from Arizona, Alabama, Cal, Marquette, Memphis, Oregon, St. John's, UCLA, and Washington, and interest from Kentucky and North Carolina, among others, but ultimately Carson didn't take a single official visit before reaching a decision.

"I was pretty sure committing to ASU was what I wanted to do for a while but still had a little bit of uncertainty before I went to the Nike Global Challenge (in Oregon two weeks ago)," Carson said. "When I came back though we set up the visit to go to see their workout today and it was the first time I was there with both my mom and my dad and it just felt right. I knew it was the right time."

Carson's mother, Vanae Carson, said she knew where Cason would end up almost from the moment he re-opened his recruitment more than a year ago.

"He wanted a little validation that some of the big names in college basketball were generally interested," Vanae said. "He had UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Memphis express interest and that was validating. When he committed to Oregon State, the recruiting stopped and we didn't understand that was a show of respect about the process. But he's a 17 year old kid and wanted to feel that.

"He looked at all the other options and we'd scheduled other visits and I'd told him my schedule, his senior year, you want to get this over with so you can enjoy your senior year and get to the business at hand but I couldn't talk him out of those visits, he had to see the futility of that himself. But I've known for a very long time ASU is where he ultimately wanted to be."

Fellow elite 2011 guard Nick Johnson, an Arizona native who started his prep career at Gilbert Highland before transferring to Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, Nev., committed to the University of Arizona several days ago, but Vanae said that had no bearing on her son's decision.

"People will say, or ask, did Nick Johnson's verbal to Arizona play a role in that (quick commitment to ASU) and I'd say no because I knew before, way before Nick Johnson gave his verbal, that Jahii was going to ASU. I didn't know when he was going to make the decision but he told me when he first de-committed from Oregon State that he was going to go to ASU, and nothing happened with that relationship with ASU between then and now that wasn't a strengthening.

"So we've known this was going to happen. ASU was always his first choice. It was home and we have a large family. He's got little cousins anywhere from 3 years old to 10 years old who have been to almost every high school game he's played and he likes that and several have said recently they'd like him to go to ASU so they can come to his games. I think that when the kids got involved that touched Jahii because he's really a committed kind of guy."

Vanae said that while she wasn't enamored with the idea of Jahii staying so close to home for college, it was the presence of Sendek which ultimately led to her blessing.

"Coach Sendek, when you listen to him coach -- I've said this to other coaches and people -- he's just a brilliant basketball mind," Vanae said. "I've pretty much been around basketball since my cousin played at Purdue in 1969 and I've been around the college game, I've played, Jahii's dad played, my daughter's played. We know what we're looking at when we look at basketball and when we listen to him talk and he talks the game of basketball, you believe him because he's a proven head coach and basketball mind.

"Everywhere he's been, coach Sendek has been a winner and I believe him when he says he will change the style of basketball he'll play to fit Jahii. I don't think he's had a guard like Jahii but if he'd had that, he would have already done it because it's already been documented he's changed his style to fit his personnel. I believe people are trying to discredit him and say that he won't [play a style beneficial for Jahii] but I believe him. And the other thing, fit-wise, ASU needed him more than any of the other schools he was looking at, at the point guard position. And they never let up in how they recruited him. Coach Sendek kept saying things like, 'I want you so bad I can't even see straight.' That made me feel really good and I know it made Jahii feel really good too."

Now that Carson is in the fold he has plans of trying to lure another Top-50 level prospect to Tempe.

"I'm going to try to go after Deandre Daniels because he just de-committed (from Texas) and we're really close," Carson said. "He plays for Belmont (in AAU basketball) and I play for Compton Magic and the programs are really close, almost like the same family so I know him really well and I'm going to try to get him because I think I can get him to come to ASU."

Mesa coach Shane Burcar, who leads one of the state's top programs and has coached a number of Division I basketball players, said the Sun Devils are getting something special in Carson.

"This is a guy who could score 30 points a game every game easily but he's so focused on doing the right things, making the right passes, being a leader on and off the floor," Burcar said. "He's a fantastic talent and great player but he's a leader first and foremost. He's a player other guys respond to and want to play with and he's an excellent example of how to do things the right way.

"He continues to improve and impress me all the time and he works so hard for that. He can score almost at will and shoot it really well and his court vision is unbelievable, plus he's obviously a great athlete. His ethic is admirable and he's got his best basketball ahead of him and is going to be special, I really believe that. I think ASU is getting one heck of a basketball player."

Consciously or otherwise, it's interesting that Burcar would use the word leader multiple times in describing Carson over the course of a short interview considering the literal translation of his name.

"Coming into the world, Jahii's purpose was to be a leader with dignity and I remind him of that every conversation we have," Vanea said. "'Son, you were not born to be a follower, you were born to lead.'"



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