|Jahii Carson is returning with humility, and more mature for ASU. (Courtesy of Pros2Preps.com)|
On the surface, Jahii Carson's situation hasn't changed much over the past 12 months. Carson is still very confident and talented, and he's still being looked at as the potential savior for Arizona State this season.
And he's still yet to play a college game.
But that doesn't mean everything is the same.
"The expectations are higher," ASU coach Herb Sendek said.
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Carson was a highly-touted point guard coming out of Mesa (Ariz.) High School in the class of 2011, and one of the top in-state recruits Sendek ever has signed. Moreover, his highlight reel clips on YouTube had people buzzing in Tempe about Carson and Sun Devils.
Alas, that hype never was fulfilled last season, as the NCAA ruled Carson academically ineligible. He fell short on his ACT score and core-course GPA, and a delayed process after retaking the ACT only resulted in more bad news for Carson and Arizona State.
Carson was allowed to practice with the team, meaning he was forced to watch Arizona State struggle to a 10-21 record.
"It was painful," he said. "My teammates were out there trying as hard as they could, but you need some of the right pieces. I was one of those pieces. I take a lot of pressure off a lot of guys, as the point guard. But we had no true point guard."
When Carson first committed to Arizona State in August 2010 -- after previously pledging to Oregon State -- he was something of a missing piece for the Sun Devils. Sendek had plenty of talent in the fold, led by Trent Lockett, Keala King and Kyle Cain. With Carson running the point, Arizona State would have the weapons needed to make some noise in the Pac-12.
As Carson gets ready to take the reins of the Sun Devils' offense, though, he will have a different supporting cast. A very different supporting cast. Lockett (Marquette), King (Long Beach State) and Cain (UNC-Greensboro) transferred.
"It's disappointing," Carson said. "I felt like Keala, Trent and Kyle were hungry and willing to go to war. But I've adapted to my new teammates. Bo Barnes, Evan Gordon, other guys. We can do damage, if guys are hungry. If we go out there together, I think we can have the same impact."
When Carson was first ruled ineligible for games last season, everyone saw it as a major setback. He couldn't play in any games, couldn't make an impact, couldn't live up to his own expectations.
He let himself down with his lack of focus in high school, and he knew he had to prove himself to teammates in practice.
With a year passed, Carson learned to look at the time off with optimism. He was able to work on his game, get acclimated to the college lifestyle, and -- most important -- improve his academics. Carson said he now has around a 2.8 GPA, and expects very good grades in his two summer session classes.
"If more guys coming out of high school could take a year off, they would be five times better off," he said. "Weaknesses shouldn't be seen anymore. I think I'm going to have a more intelligent understanding of the pace of the game, the length of the players. I'll have an advantage over guys coming in from high school."
Sendek was impressed with the way Carson handled the initial hurdle.
"It can be turned into a positive, because of the way he approached it," Sendek said. "The way he responded, with work ethic and dignity. We're all making the best of the situation."
Carson has been humbled by the past year. He said he's matured on and off the court, being around other college students and athletes. But the confidence Carson showed during the high school and AAU circuit a couple of years ago, is still there. It was a major part of his game, and that's not going anywhere.
Sendek thinks Carson has a great balance of self-assurance and respect for others and the game of basketball.
"He's a young man who has confidence and deservedly so," Sendek said. "You can't do the things he does without having confidence."
Despite Arizona State's struggles last season, people are still anticipating Carson’s debut. The town he grew up in neighbors Tempe, and his long list of family and friends are looking forward to him suiting up for the Sun Devils.
Additionally, the buzz is growing as the basketball season gets closer.
"A lot of people want to see how I'm going to do," Carson said.
The same situation as a year ago? Not even close.