Carrick Felix takes off for another highlight reel dunk - Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports
Written off by just about everyone, the Arizona State basketball team has raced out to a 16-4 record through its first 20 games. What's behind the success of the Sun Devils? Look no further than Carrick Felix.
Steady. Positive. Firm. Selfless.
When it comes to the success of the Arizona State basketball team, Coach Herb Sendek has used an abundance of words to describe the player responsible for the magic. Yet despite his extensive vocabulary, Sendek still struggles with ways to lavish praise on his team captain, Carrick Felix.
"I can't even begin to string together enough good adjectives to describe how amazing he's been as a leader," Sendek said. "It's not just recently when things have gone well, but I would tell you from the end of last season and all the way through this moment."
Perhaps Coach Sendek may have foreseen a breakout season from Felix and the Sun Devils, but few others saw Arizona State as a contender.
In the 2012-2013 Pac-12 Men's Basketball media poll, the Sun Devils were picked to finish 11th in the conference, yet they haven't exactly followed the script.
After racing out to a 16-4 start that includes quality victories over conference foes such as Colorado and UCLA, the Sun Devil hoops squad is thriving.
While few experts expected Arizona State to factor into a race for the Pac-12 title, even fewer could have predicted the rise of Carrick Felix.
Only a year removed from a season in which he averaged just 10.5 points and four rebounds per game, Felix has been a revelation for the upstart Sun Devils.
The hard work started immediately following the Sun Devils' loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 tournament last season, and it simply hasn't stopped.
"I definitely worked all offseason just to be in the position I'm in now, but without my teammates and my coaches, I wouldn't be doing half the stuff I'm doing," Felix said.
The senior wing's words are poignant, as Arizona State has benefitted from wholesale improvements at every position on the floor.
Point guard Jahii Carson continues to excel in his freshman campaign, and his consistency at the point guard position has lifted the entire Sun Devil team. In all likelihood, no one has benefitted more than Felix, who has received plenty of Carson's 109 assists this year.
The dynamic duo can be found on nightly alley-oop watch, as Carson's passes often find a streaking Felix ready to seize momentum with another thunderous slam.
Despite his propensity for the game-breaker, Felix can beat his opponents from anywhere on the floor. Just ask UCLA, as the Bruins surrendered a basket to Felix in nearly every possible way. The senior nailed a three, hit jumpers, drove in for layups, threw down a couple of dunks, and collected six points from the free throw line en route to a game-high 23 points.
For his weekend efforts, the Goodyear, Arizona native received his third Pac-12 Player of the Week award as well as the National Player of the Week award on ESPN.com.
As the media shovels recognition into Felix's lap, Coach Sendek doesn't want the most important part of the captain's game to be overlooked.
"He just has been nothing short of remarkable in terms of the leadership he's given our team. I don't see that changing, either," Sendek said.
His coach loves what he does for the locker room, but the fans and pundits appreciate Felix for his incredible on-court efforts too.
With an average of 15.1 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game, Felix is the only player in the Pac-12 in the top 10 of both statistical categories. But those stats are just the basics. An in-depth look reveals even more about the senior's value to the Sun Devils.
Felix's 53.5 percent shooting mark also ranks in the top 10 in the conference, despite the fact that he's attempted 74 three-pointers this year.
Amazingly, Felix's name also appears on the conference leaderboards in steals (6th at 1.7 per game) and blocked shots (9th at 1.4 per game).
Finally, it's worth noting that the Sun Devil captain is accomplishing all of this while shouldering the demands of having to play nearly the entire game. Felix's 34.3 minutes per game average ranks seventh in the Pac-12, but the workload doesn't affect him.
"If I play two minutes, three minutes, 20 minutes, or 40 minutes, I'm just going to go out there and give it all I've got," Felix said.
On Saturday, UCLA Bruin guard Jordan Adams got a taste of what it feels like to play against Felix for all 40 minutes. As the clock ticked away, Adams stole the ball from Sun Devil guard Evan Gordon with less than six seconds remaining.
Adams charged down the court to cut an 18-point lead to 16 at the buzzer, but his layup was blocked from behind by a soaring wonder.
For Felix, the block was all about fundamentals and playing until the final whistle blew. For teammates like Jahii Carson, it was another special moment.
"I knew Carrick was going to go ahead and block it. I just knew," Carson said. "That's not going down. Not when Carrick is the LeBron of college blocks."
As the Sun Devils continue to creep into the national spotlight, so too does their senior leader. Felix has seven double-doubles in his last 14 games and has hit double figures in 18 of the 20 Arizona State games this season.
But for Felix, personal achievements don't make an impact on him. The senior maintains that his work won't stop until the Sun Devils achieve their potential.
"My ultimate goal at the end of the day is to get something for my team that we can have forever and that's winning the Pac-12 championship," Felix said.
At the beginning of the season, his goal might have seemed like a long shot. However, a combination of steadiness, optimism, hard work, and selflessness has his dream cooking again.
Toss in a little bit of his passion and heart, and Felix might just have a recipe for success.