COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Jahii Carson just can’t wait for Arizona State fans to watch him dunk. He already picked one out he thinks they might like to see during a game, the one his father taught him that he’s been practicing since the seventh grade.
Carson’s vision for his Sun Devils aerial show is this: With a clear path to the basket, he throws a high bounce pass to himself, and all 5-foot-11 of him skies to slam it home.
“There’s been a lot said that ASU fans haven’t been wanting to come to the games recently, and I’m going to try to change that because they haven’t seen the kind of stuff I can bring to the table,” Carson said. “I want to definitely change that and bring kind of a different energy to Wells Fargo Arena.”
Carson, who is spending his summer with the USA under-19 world championship team as the only high school player to make the roster, looks forward to his freshman season and seems to understand his potential as a program-changing talent. As ESPNU's eighth-ranked point guard in the 2011 class, Carson is blessed with elite athleticism and a magnetic personality to match, a combination that could help take the team out of the Pac-12 basement.
Herb Sendek convinced the Mesa High product to stay home, and the coach known for his suffocating matchup-zone defenses now has a player with the ability to run a fast-paced offense, the quickness to break down defenders and the creativity to thrive in transition. With Carson on the attack and sharing a backcourt with leading scorer Trent Lockett, Sendek appears to have the personnel to run an offense explosive enough to blow holes in the program’s slowdown stereotype.
“He said he wants to put the ball in my hands, and he just wants to push the basketball so we can change to an uptempo type of game,” Carson said.
“He basically said teams think that we’re a slow-down program, and there’s times when he hadn’t really had a point guard that felt comfortable pushing the tempo.”
The timing in Tempe is crucial, as injury-plagued Arizona State finished last in the Pac-10 in 2011 (4-14, 12-19 overall) and last in the league in scoring offense (64.0 ppg). Sendek previously led the team to three consecutive seasons of at least 20 wins but has only one NCAA tournament appearance in five seasons with the Sun Devils to show for it.
“He’s a talented point guard that carries a certain amount of expectations,” Sendek said. “Although we expect really good things, we take it one day at a time. He’ll have a role to play and be a part of our team.
“Jahii himself will have a lot to do with the tempo that’s set, as well as our other players.”
Carson said Sendek made no promises in his recruiting pitch about starting as a freshman or changing to a faster style of play, but he was sold on the opportunity to do so and is confident that Arizona State fits him well while Sendek prepares him for the next level.
“We don’t really clash heads too much because he likes my style of game, and I like his style of coaching,” Carson said. “When it’s on the court, we really don’t clash at all. When it’s off the court, definitely he’s a funny guy to me, and our personalities match to me.
“I think he’s a brilliant guy on and off the court. When I sit down and talk to him, he has so much knowledge. I can just soak in everything, and I feel like I’m a student of the game and he’s a student of the game with more knowledge than I have, and I can learn a lot.”
Sendek loves what he has in Carson as well. “He is a very self-confident, charismatic young man who possesses some real leadership abilities. We look forward to taking advantage of his strengths.”
Watching the team struggle and fall into last place wasn’t easy for Carson to handle, especially when fans would approach him during games and say how much the team needed him. Carson certainly doesn’t have to carry the load by himself and says he will look to his teammates to help deal with the pressure. He wanted to come to ASU to play with fellow guards Keala King and Lockett, who is coming off a breakout sophomore season that saw him average 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Together, they hope the program can turn around quickly in the Pac-12 at a time when rival Arizona is coming off a conference championship and a trip to the Elite Eight.
“People from out of state say U of A,” said Carson, who was recruited by the Wildcats. “They don’t really say Arizona State. I just want to change that. I think we can definitely change that.”
It all starts with Carson's getting acquainted with Wells Fargo Arena in the fall, and he is more than ready to unleash his patented bounce-dunk. His father encouraged him to try it growing up, and it’s a move that allows Carson to show off his leaping ability and fearlessness when it comes to taking chances.
“Once I got it down pat," Carson said, "I just started doing it."