A year ago, Jahii Carson was a non-qualifier, an Arizona high school legend on Arizona State's campus with an unplanned year off from competitive basketball.
On Wednesday night, ASU's freshman point guard will face Utah at the Huntsman Center as a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.
The transformation is nothing short of amazing. Carson is a 5-foot-10 point guard without a reliable jump shot. But he's proven to be the quickest player in the league, crafty off the dribble and a lethal scorer.
A year ago he wasn't playing basketball. Now, he's the best floor general in the conference.
"I always had confidence in my game, but I didn't think I would see so much success so quickly," Carson said. "I didn't think I would have this much impact on the conference. But I definitely had a lot of confidence in my game."
Carson is a prime example of what one player can do for a program. A season ago, the Sun Devils were a lot like Utah, a team at the bottom of the conference. Now, with largely the same roster plus Carson, Arizona State is tied for fourth in the league and battling for an NCAA Tournament berth.
The numbers tell the tale of Carson having a special season. He is averaging 18 points per game, on pace for the ninth-best freshman year in Pac-12 history. Carson dropped 32 on Washington two weeks ago. Only three other rookies in league history have outdone that total.
He's averaging 24.3 points per game in conference road games. In the first meeting between Utah and ASU on Jan. 2, Carson made a deep 3-pointer against the Utes to send the game into overtime, which the Sun Devils eventually won.
"No question, Arizona State is a tough matchup," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. "They have the point guard who is doing what he's supposed to do. But they also have the people around him playing well. Carrick Felix has been player of the week a number of times. Jordan Bachynski has been really good as well. It's a really nice blend for them."
Carson is the key, though. In a conference that features Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, Carson is a near lock to be the Freshman of the Year. He's changed the fortunes of the program: Arizona State coach Herb Sendek entered the year on the proverbial hot seat, but talks of his demise have quieted considerably.
"I just want to go out and help my team win," Carson said. "That's my main focus. We have a chance to accomplish some things, and I want to go out and play the best I can in every game."
Arizona State at Utah
O At the Huntsman Center
Tipoff • Wednesday,6 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 10-13, 2-9; Arizona State 18-6, 7-4
Last meeting • Arizona State 55, Utah 54 (Jan. 2)
Series history • Utah leads, 26-19
About the Sun Devils • ASU leads the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage. … Arizona State split with California and Stanford last weekend. … Jordan Bachynski leads the Pac-12 in blocked shots. … Jahii Carson is a Pac-12 rookie of the year candidate. … ASU defeated Utah in overtime 55-54 last month.
About the Utes • Utah led Oregon by eight last Saturday before falling to the Ducks. … Utah will face nationally ranked Arizona on Sunday. … Jason Washburn has four double-doubles in conference play. … Utah forward Jordan Loveridge scored 14 points against Oregon. … Utah center Dallin Bachynski is Jordan Bachynski's younger brother.