Jahii Carson: Little Man With Big Hopes
Colorado Springs, Colo. • June 22, 2011
In the game of basketball, size is an important attribute. The first year of college is also one of the biggest learning curves for a young athlete. However, Jahii Carson, a finalist for the 2011 USA Men’s U19 National Team, is breaking both of those adages as he looks for a chance to compete internationally for USA Basketball.
Checking in at 5-11 and 160 pounds, Carson is the shortest and lightest of the 13 finalists. The guard from Phoenix, Ariz. is also the only player yet to step on the court or be on the sidelines for a collegiate team.
“These guys have all had a year of college experience, and for me, I’m just getting out of high school,” Carson said. “It’s definitely a tough transition for me to play against bigger and more physical guys. I just try to come out here and play the best I can.”
Carson graduated from Mesa High School (Arizona) last month, and won’t put on his first collegiate uniform until this fall when he’ll suit up for Arizona State.
He realizes how much a player develops in that first year of college, and because he hasn’t had that, he says it is an honor to be selected as a finalist.
“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “These guys push me every day and they don’t take me as the little guy; they take me as a grown man now. They’re just pushing me and taking me through the ropes to get to the next level.”
While Carson says his teammates don’t see him as the “little guy”, he’s often times towered over by power forwards and centers that measure a foot above him.
“I’ve always been one of the smallest guys, but I’ve also always been one of the toughest guys,” he said. “Guys never really looked at me as the little guy.”
Because of his speed and determination, Carson has been able to use his small frame to his advantage.
“I use my size as one of my strengths,” he said. “I try to push the tempo. I try to get after it offensively. I try to get after it defensively. I try to make the offensive guy uncomfortable when I’m on defense, trying to push a little bit of pressure on him. Same thing on the offensive end, keeping them honest and pushing the tempo.”
In high school, Carson was one of his school’s more successful athletes, starting for two years and setting single-season scoring and assists records both seasons. During his senior campaign, Mesa High School advanced to the Arizona Class 5A state semifinals with a 21-6 record. Carson led the way with 32.2 ppg., 3.6 apg. and 2.1 spg. In the three state tournament games, the senior tallied 133 points, including 58 in his final game.
For his success, Carson was named to the 2011 Parade Magazine All-America second team and was tabbed as the 2011 Arizona Republic Big Schools (4A-5A) Player of the Year.
“I enjoyed my time at Mesa and feel like I left my name there,” Carson said. “But I’m ready to get to college. I’m excited about the whole experience—the college basketball atmosphere, the fans, road games, the schoolwork.”
While Carson is pleased with his decision to stay close to home and go to Arizona State, it wasn’t his initial plan. As a sophomore, Carson gave Oregon State a verbal commit, before de-committing for the Sun Devils.
“I was a sophomore when I committed to Oregon State,” Carson explained. “It was one of the first offers I had and I was excited at the moment. Coach (Craig) Robinson was the coach, and his sister was Michelle Obama, who of course is Barack Obama’s wife. I was excited for all of those opportunities, but as I started to go along and get older, I thought I committed too early.
“I opened up my recruiting process and was being recruited by pretty much every college in the country. I decided I wanted to stay at home so my family could see me play, and I also thought Coach (Herb) Sendek was a great coach and that he would help me play to the best of my abilities.”
As for off the court, it may come as a surprise that Carson takes a liking to school and that he “enjoys being educated.” Away from the basketball, one of his favorite hobbies is writing poetry.
“I’m a poet,” he said. “I like to do poetry. My mom’s a college professor, so she instilled writing in me at an early age. I definitely like to write poetry in my free time.”
While his free time will be sparse between his studies and basketball, Carson plans to get involved with a couple extracurricular poetry clubs at ASU.
With high school graduation in the rearview window and college basketball ahead, for now, Carson is focusing on USA Basketball, which he said without a doubt is his favorite basketball memory of his life.
“This is by far my favorite basketball memory,” Carson responded without hesitation. “Getting the chance to represent the USA overseas is an honor. As a high school guy playing with guys a year older, this is definitely right now my favorite basketball memory. This experience with USA Basketball will help me immensely when I step onto the court at ASU.”
The guard will finish up training camp Thursday, where, if he is selected to the 12-man roster, he will compete in the 2011 FIBA World Championship For Men June 30-July 10 in Valmiera, Liepaja and Riga, Latvia.
While the experience has already been memorable in his eyes, a gold medal would top it off.
“That’d put the cherry on top of everything,” Carson answered. “Just graduating from high school, about to enter college basketball and playing with USA Basketball, winning a gold medal would just put the cherry on top of everything.”
And from what he’s seen so far in training camp, Carson likes his team’s chances.
“I think we’re going to be an up-tempo team,” he said. “We have great scorers and guys that can fill the lanes. With me and Joe (Jackson) running the ball a lot, it’s going to be tough to stop us. We also have bigs down low who can shot block and defend and rebound. I don’t think too many teams can stop us from scoring the basketball.”