Less than 40 seconds into his allotted 10 minutes at Pac-12 media day in San Francisco, Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek looked to his side and at his star point guard and essentially thanked him, in front of a throng of media, for saving his season.
Arizona State without Jahii Carson is a Porsche without two wheels, no gas pedal and certainly missing a clutch. Sendek knows as much, and that’s why he quickly got to his point.
“Certainly a great pleasure to be here to start a new college basketball season once again,” Sendek opened.
“I’m especially honored to be on the stage with one of the great point guards in college basketball, Jahii Carson.”
That’s how fast it took for Sendek to mention Carson, who burst onto the scene nearly as quickly as a redshirt freshman last season. Carson was named Pac-12 co-freshman of the year after averaging 18.5 points.
Carson’s return was questionable – he likely would’ve been a first-round pick in a muddled 2013 NBA draft, though he again projects as a mid-first-rounder in the loaded 2014 draft – but he announced his intentions to remain in Tempe to great fanfare.
And for good reason.
Carson’s comeback makes all the difference for a team that won 22 games last year and is fighting to finish in the upper quadrant of the conference.
“His confidence; his confidence is contagious,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “It makes everybody feel good. It’s backed up by a great game. It’s one thing to be confident and everybody rolls their eyes at ya, because you’re good, but there’s a lot of guys better. He has an amazing ability level.”
With Carson up to speed, Sendek is hoping to push the tempo, especially now that he’s found a running mate for Carson.
Penn State transfer Jermaine Marshall is expected to shine next to Carson, providing some measure of replacement for departed small forward – and No. 33 pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft – Carrick Felix.
Marshall averaged 15.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists for Penn State last season, but he is immediately eligible because he has already graduated. He’ll have one season of eligibility left, and Sendek is going to make quick work out of his flashy backcourt.
“As fast as we played last year, we want to push on the accelerator even more this year,” Sendek said.
Added Carson: “It’s going particularly well (with Marshall). He’s a veteran and he brings all the veteran qualities, as far as rebounding, taking charges, hitting his free throws, hitting his open shots and finding the open man. I just learn every day from him.”
While the Sun Devils feature a pair of backcourt burners, they need more consistent play from the frontcourt, particularly Jordan Bachynski. The 7-foot-2 center set a conference record with 120 blocks last year but also battled foul trouble. He’ll be joined up front by lengthy Jonathan Gilling, and the loss of Felix should be softened by Pac-12 play, when Michigan State transfer Brandan Kearney becomes eligible.
“I’m excited about our team,” Sendek said. “I think we have a good group of guys who are working hard. We have good spirit, good energy in the gym. Our depth has improved from last year.”
And yet Sendek knows, Miller knows, Carson knows – the whole conference knows – the Sun Devils are only going as far as Carson will take them.
“One of the things I was most amazed with was his ability to handle (expectations) with grace and poise,” Sendek said.
“It just seemed like the brighter the lights, the bigger the stage, the better he played.”