Jared Sullinger... Anthony Davis... and Jahii Carson?
Every season, a freshman phenom takes college basketball by storm and grabs the national spotlight. Though most highly touted stars make their name at powerhouses like Ohio State and Kentucky, Mesa High product Jahii Carson elected to take a different route.
In August of 2010, Carson thrilled basketball fans around the Valley by committing to play basketball for Arizona State.
Starting at point guard, Carson has the Sun Devils off to their best start in recent memory and the local kid is growing more confident each time he steps on the court.
"I just had to get a feel for the game. As time goes on, I become more comfortable," Carson said.
While Sullinger and Davis might be household names for college basketball fans around the country, Jahii Carson remains a blip on the national radar, but that's just the way he likes it.
"People underestimate us now and I think we'll make a little bit more of a statement," Carson said.
Through the first five games of the Arizona State's season, the Sun Devils have eclipsed expectations and Carson has made his presence felt.
The undersized point guard has flourished in head coach Herb Sendek's new up-tempo offense that is designed to take advantage of Carson's unique abilities at the point guard position.
A volume scorer who thrives off the dribble, Carson has three 20-point outings, including a 30-point explosion against the No.11 Creighton Jays. While most freshmen might shy away at the thought of taking on top-notch talent like Doug McDermott, Carson beamed about the opportunity to display his game against one of the nation's premier scorers.
"I was actually really excited. I was really prepared and I just wanted to play to the best of my abilities," Carson said.
Carson outscored McDermott by a single point, but his superior effort was not enough as the Sun Devils suffered an 87-73 loss at the hands of the Jays.
Despite Arizona State's rough start against Creighton, the Sun Devils kept the ball in Carson's hands because he's already a proven commodity. Through his first five collegiate games, Carson is averaging 21 points, five assists, and nearly 10 free throw attempts in each contest.
In a college basketball landscape that features freshmen sensations such as Kentucky's Nerlins Noel and UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad, Jahii Carson's name might not sound so familiar. Though Carson enjoys an understated presence on the national scene, his 21 points-per-game lead all NCAA freshmen in scoring and that's a mark he might hold throughout the season.
Carson's 48.4% field goal percentage is exceptional for a guard, and he credits his attack-the-rim approach for much of his early season success.
"That gives us the opportunity to get to the line and get a feel for our shots," Carson said.
If Carson can continue to penetrate opposing defenses with regularity, the Sun Devils pose a legitimate threat to every team they face this season. With newfound attention and hype coming his way, Carson will have to adjust to different circumstances on and off the court.
Achieving off court discipline is tough for any first-time star, and Carson already knows the ramifications of a muddled lifestyle.
Jahii Carson is actually one year older than most freshmen, as he graduated from Mesa High in 2011. Following a prodigious high school career in which he became a YouTube sensation, Carson came to Arizona State with the weight of his hometown riding on his shoulders.
After lengthy NCAA review process, Carson was ruled academically ineligible and missed the 2011-2012 season. A lost season weighed heavily on the freshman, but he appears rejuvenated, refocused, and ready to tackle any challenges thrown his way.
"I'm learning to take this game more seriously everyday, just like my teammates do," Carson said.
Coach Sendek tailored an offense founded in the half-court to fit the style of the program's newest player. Carson has responded with eye-popping stats on the offensive end of the floor, but he acknowledges he isn't a one man wrecking crew.
"I just try to go out there and be aggressive. If I get scoring early, it opens opportunities for the other guys," Carson said.
In each of Arizona State's five games this season, the "other guys" have stepped up. Whether the Sun Devils need Jordan Bachynski to use his size in the post, Carrick Felix to dominate from the wing, or Jonathan Gilling to catch and shoot, each Sun Devil has been the beneficiary of Carson's crisp and creative passing and stepped up to the plate when called upon.
The 4-1 Sun Devils enjoy the benefits of playing their next six games at home. If they manage to hold off the likes of DePaul and Dartmouth and avoid a major slip-up along the way, Arizona State could travel to Texas Tech with a record of 10-1.
"We came into the season with high individual goals and high team goals. We expected to come out and be 4-1 or 5-0, so I don't think anything has changed," Carson said.
Arizona State may have expected these results, but there is no way the Sun Devils could have foreseen the spark Carson brings to the starting lineup. His electrifying speed sets the tempo of a game, his penchant for drawing fouls puts the Sun Devils in control late, and his jaw-dropping ability to make plays in tight spaces has revived the basketball culture in Tempe.
Even after two seasons of frustration and disappointment, the Sun Devils are not content to consider the 2012-2013 campaign a rebuilding season.
"I feel we have elite players. I feel like we're an elite team," Carson said.
Though he doesn't score buckets for Ohio State or Kentucky, Carson insists he's comfortable making a name for himself in the desert. Arizona State might not be a basketball powerhouse yet, but Carson's numbers force analysts to look at the team's early success.
"I just try to go out there and make a statement and for us to be doing as well as we're doing, I think it shuts a lot of people up," Carson said.
As far as statement go, Jahii Carson has made his loud and clear.