Carson Prepares for Final Season in Tempe

Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson more than lived up to the hype in his freshman season with a record-setting individual performance while helping guide ASU back to the postseason for the first time in three years. To the delight of Sun Devil fans, he announced last April his intention to return for another year, setting the stage for an encore performance in 2013.

As far as freshman campaigns go, Carson raised the bar by averaging 18.5 points and 5.1 assists per game in 2012 while being recognized as the Pac-12's Co-Freshman of the Year along with former UCLA forward Shabazz Muhammad.

Carson led the conference by notching 20 or more points in 18 games setting an Arizona State school record in the process as he helped guide the Sun Devils to a 22-13 record and an NIT Tournament appearance.

Carson put to rest any speculation of a one and done scenario when he announced his intention to return for a sophomore year back in April, just two weeks after the season ended for the Sun Devils.

However, all good things come to an end as Carson tweeted out over the summer that he expects 2013-14 to be his final season in Tempe, which only serves to raise the expectations for the talented point guard heading into his final year for the maroon and gold.

"With me coming back, I already knew the expectations were going to be raised," Carson said, "especially after the performance I showed last year and me playing particularly well alongside Carrick (Felix) and showing a lot of maturity in my game as a freshman. I knew the expectations were going to be high regardless of whether I decided to come back or not. So now with me saying I'm going to leave, I don't feel any more pressure.

"I knew coming in as a freshman I would have to display an ability to score and take my team to the next level, so I just think it's a similar kind of pressure that I experienced last year. The only difference is missing Carrick this year, which is just making me step up my game even more."

Due to his impressive first-year performance, Carson was selected to participate in the Adidas Nations Camp over the summer, providing the talented guard with an opportunity to compete against some of the top college and international players and perform in front of NBA scouts and general managers.

"It was cool. It was very professional, very NBA-like," Carson recalled. "We had NBA practice uniforms, NBA coaches, ran an NBA offense and defense, and we had NBA GM's and scouts around and stuff. We had some of the best guys from college and the international guys, so it was like how the old ABCD camp used to be.

"There were high schoolers and we were counselors. So we'd help the high schoolers out for the first session, go back to the hotel, and then the second session would be games. The teams were stacked up evenly and you'd get to showcase your skills in front of NBA GM's just like how at AAU you do it for college coaches, you'd be doing it for NBA GM's. So it was really cool and great experience for me."

Carson earned rave reviews from that weeklong camp in Long Beach, Calif. pointing out the growth in his game since the season ended. The Sun Devil standout said that while he feels confident that he can score whenever he wants or needs to for his team, he wanted to use the summer to expand his role from just a scoring guard to a facilitator for the Arizona State offense.

"Everybody knows I can score the basketball, so I really wanted to try to work on my distributing and hitting open jump shots," Carson remarked. "My three (point shot) is really coming along, so as I start to hit the three ball it opens up the paint a little bit more for more penetration and dishing.

"I was just trying to be more of a natural point guard than a scoring point guard. (At Arizona State), I'm more of a scoring threat, but I wanted to show that I can be a passing point guard as well."

Following that aforementioned event, Carson rejoined his Sun Devil teammates for the start of their preseason camp in August as they began preparing for the team's 10-day trip to China where they played three games against Chinese amateur and professional teams.

With seven newcomers to this year's Arizona State squad, the additional practice time served the team well, and helped Carson mesh his style with the talents of his new team.

"I definitely think the early start helped us, especially for skill set," Carson explained. "Guys are shooting the ball a lot better. Guys are handling the ball a lot better and are able to finish around the paint. We're learning each other's characteristics so I think being together that long definitely helped us to learn each other's game and get to know each other off the court as well.

"Not a lot of teams get to do this but we do, so I think we've done a good job of using it to our advantage and guys are really getting better."

One player who has stood out to Carson throughout the team's preseason preparations has been junior forward Jon Gilling, who had a terrific second half to his freshman in 2011, but struggled with his outside shot throughout much of last year.

"I've really been impressed with Jon Gilling, even though he's been here," Carson noted. "He's really transformed his game from being just a shooter. A lot of people say he's just a spot up shooter, but he creates a lot of action for me off of ball screens because it's tough for defenses to switch off of that. And with my jump shot improving, it's tough to guard me and him at the same time.

"Overall, his voice and presence on the court has really stood out to me so far."

A couple more weapons for Carson and the Arizona State offense came with the backcourt additions of transfers Jermaine Marshall (Penn State) and Brandan Kearney (Michigan State), along with Tempe native and redshirt freshman Calaen Robinson.

Marshall, a fifth-year averaged 15.3 points per game last season for the Nittany Lions and provides the Sun Devils with additional leadership and another outside shooting threat. While Kearney, who won't be eligible to play for the Sun Devils until late December due to NCAA transfer rules, provides defense and versatility. As well as length.

"It's more of a bigger backcourt now," Carson commented. "Jermaine's 6-3, 6-4. Brandan's 6-6. So I think it definitely brings a longer backcourt to us. They can take some of the pressure off me and use their strength and size to bother some of the point guards which allows me to go over to the two and bother some of the bigger guards with my speed. I definitely think we're interchangeable on defense.

"Offensively, they can shoot the ball particularly well, so I know guys will have to stay home when I drive and penetrate to the basket. So I just think with them being able to hit open jump shots and handle the ball as well as they do, it takes pressure off me tremendously. That's what I mean when I say we're the toughest backcourt in the country because we have so much versatility between the three of us."

In an effort to take advantage of Carson's speed and the team's talented stable of guards, Arizona State Head Coach installed a 24-second shot clock in the team's practices as he looks for the Sun Devils to play at a faster pace in 2013.

ASU averaged 71.0 points per game last season, which ranked 89th nationally, but the coach hopes to increase that productivity with a veteran group led by its sensational point guard.

"A lot of people used to talk about Coach Sendek not having a fast pace offense but he really didn't have the personnel that we have now," Carson stated. "The guys that we have now, he sees that we can really flourish in it and I think that's why we're playing such a fast tempo because we have strong athletic wings, like Egor (Koulechov), Brandan, Bo Barnes, and Sai Tummala. We're trying to get out and play multiple positions and get out and score easy buckets.

"With me being fast and pushing the ball as much as I can, it's to our benefit to play at that tempo and I think it's going to help us. I think teams are going to be expecting it because we played a little faster last year but I think we're going to play even faster this year and it's going to be that much more of a shock to teams in the Pac-12 this season."

Most preseason projections have the Sun Devils expected to finish between 4th and 6th in the Pac-12 this season, with rival Arizona as the early favorite to win the conference. But with Carson back in the fold for another season in the desert, Sun Devil fans can expect to see an Arizona State poised to pull off a few surprises along the way and is hopeful for a return to the NCAA Tournament in March.

Carson believes that a non-conference schedule that includes the likes of Marquette, Creighton, and UNLV will more than adequately prepare the Sun Devils for the rigors of conference play.

"We have high expectations for ourselves," said Carson. "Last year we won 22 games and that's a bar that stood out for us as well. We look at people and see that their expectations for us aren't as high the ones we have for each other. We know what we need to work on more than anyone else on the outside looking in, so I definitely think that we're going to perform. With the bar being set as high as it is for each other, I think we'll measure up to the standards.

"And then with the level of competition that we're playing this year, guys are going to rise to that level. Before, playing a weaker schedule and then heading into the Pac-12, it was hard to raise the level of play. But now we're playing tougher teams early on, so I expect us to carry a higher level of play throughout the whole season."

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