Skip to content

Blessing in disguise: A redshirt season allowed Jahii Carson, Ben McLemore to thrive

Jan 31, 2013, 11:49 AM EDT

Arizona v Arizona State Getty Images

Jahii Carson and Ben McLemore are two very different players.

Carson is a cocksure point guard, a playmaker that thrives when the ball is in his hands and has the confidence — both in himself and from head coach Herb Sendek — to take a tough shot or make a risky pass. No one questions his ability, certainly not Carson himself.

McLemore, on the other hand, is an off-guard that with one of the nation’s purest shooting strokes that, when combined with his off-the-charts athleticism and defensive ability, has scouts drooling over his potential. He could end up being the No. 1 pick in the draft, even if he still, at times, needs convincing that he’s the No. 1 option for Kansas.

Both are freshmen that entered college as consensus top 50 recruits. Both are putting up all-american caliber numbers. Neither was more than a member of the scout team last season, as they were both forced into redshirt years by the NCAA as a result of academic question marks coming out of high school.

And as it turns out, it may have been the best thing for both player’s careers.

McLemore’s story has been well-publicized, as he’s become the leading scorer for the team currently sitting at the top of the Coaches Poll. But few believe that McLemore could have had this kind of an impact if he had played his first year on campus. Throughout much of his career at the prep level, in both high school and AAU ball, McLemore was a complimentary player. He played AAU ball with Bradley Beal and Roosevelt Jones. His Oak Hill team included Quinn Cook, Jordan Adams, AJ Hammons and a handful of other high-major recruits.

McLemore never needed to be the star, which was perfect for him. He’s an introvert, a kid that’s still learning just how talented he truly is. He wasn’t ready for this stage last year; he needed the redshirt. “He’s going to have to get confidence,” Bill Self said of McLemore before the season, “There are a lot of things that he’s going to have to do, but he can run, he can jump and he can shoot. That’s a pretty good combination for a wing.”

And while McLemore is on everyone’s short list for potential first-team all-americans, he’s still nothing more than a piece in the Kansas system. Outside of the overtime win over Iowa State and the December victory at Ohio State, there aren’t many games where McLemore simply took over.

That’s not true for Carson, who has been the centerpiece for one of this season’s most improbable turnarounds.

Coming off of a 10-21 season, with a handful of important pieces transferring out during the offseason and two members of the coaching staff jumping ship weeks before the season was to begin, little was expected of the Sun Devils coming into the year. But Herb Sendek’s team has jumped out to a 16-4 record and a 5-2 mark in the Pac-12, good for a tie for second-place in the conference. That includes a win over Colorado and an 18 point shellacking of UCLA on Saturday.

The difference has been Carson.

“Last year, one our great challenges was that we didn’t have a true point guard in out program,” said Sendek, who sped up his team’s glacial pace from a year ago to fit with the skill-set of the uber-athletic Carson. “And that’s like trying to play without a quarterback in football. So having Jahii at that position this year has made an unquantifiable difference.”

Carson is averaging 17.3 points, 5.5 assists and 3.4 boards heading into Thursday night’s game at Washington State. He’s played at least 38 minutes in all but one of ASU’s Pac-12 games. But even Carson will admit that he wouldn’t have had this kind of an impact in his first season on campus.

“I would like to think so, but when it comes down to all reality I don’t htink I would have had this much of an impact,” Carson, a noted gym-rat, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. According to Carson, his days during his redshirt season were made up of workouts, class time, practice, workouts and, well, workouts. “I worked on my speed, my agility, my vertical, my quickness, so that’s what helped me a lot. I jump a lot higher. I was 155 out of high school, I’m 180 now. I’m able to get to the basket a lot easier than I would have coming out of high school.”

“I worked on my floater. In high school, I was able to get to the basket and dunk on pretty much every body in Arizona because most of the centers were 6-foot-5. I knew at the next level, I wouldn’t be able to attack the rim like that. I learned how to shoot the floater before I got to the big man and worked on my mid-range jumper.”

But the year-off allowed Carson to grow off-the-court as well. He said the most challenging part of being away from the game was maintaining a positive mindset and spirituality about his situation. Carson is a local kid. Arizona State is his hometown team. He’s got a lot of friends and family in the area, and having them watch the Sun Devils struggle through last season while he couldn’t contribute wasn’t easy. “I was in a difficult mental state not being able to play,” he said. “It humbled me and made me more aware of my situation. Mentally, it made me stronger and I’m definitely more mature.”

It also allowed him to learn the game at the college level. Carson spent last season on the practice squad, teaming up with Liberty transfer Evan Gordon to give Arizona State’s starting five all they could handle every day in practice. He learned how to run a team. He learned how to be a point guard at the college level.

Given Arizona State’s glaring hole at the point last season, it’s fair to wonder how good they good have been if Carson wasn’t forced to sit out. As tough as the last year was, Carson’s moved on. He knows he can’t changed the past, turning his redshirt year into a blessing in disguise.

The only thing he’s concerned about now: proving the doubters wrong.

“It definitely feels good to put pie in people’s faces after they doubted us so much,” he said. “A lot of people upped and left and didn’t give us a chance to see how our team would be and mature throughout the year. Some coaching staff gave up on us. A lot of being written off [in the media] as well.”

“It just feels good to go out here and play at a high level and be a high level team and just show everybody that we can compete with the best.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Latest Posts
  1. Summer mixtape of 2015 four-star guard Eric Davis (VIDEO)

    Aug 22, 2014, 11:30 PM EDT

    (USA Basketball) (USA Basketball)

    2015 guard Eric Davis had a strong summer and is one of the better guards in the country.

  2. Louisville is getting a new floor (PHOTO)

    Aug 22, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT

    Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game Five Getty Images

    Louisville is updating its floor with the move to the ACC.

  3. Auburn strikes in 2015 with a four-star wing

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT

    Bruce Pearl AP

    Auburn made a recruiting move on Friday night with the addition of Danjel Purifoy.

  4. Missouri has a tough non-conference slate in Kim Anderson’s first year

    Aug 22, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Missouri has a fair amount of quality teams on its non-conference schedule.

  5. Oregon State guard improving in hospital after collapsing in practice

    Aug 22, 2014, 6:10 PM EDT

    Jesse Skoubo/Corvallis Gazette-Times Jesse Skoubo/Corvallis Gazette-Times

    An Oregon State incoming guard is improving in the hospital after collapsing earlier in the week.

  6. College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup

    Aug 22, 2014, 5:05 PM EDT

    (Kelly Kline/Under Armour) (Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

    College Basketball Talk’s recruiting column explores the week’s topics.

  7. Former Memphis center officially enrolls at Tennessee

    Aug 22, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Dominic Woodson is now officially a Tennessee Volunteer.

  8. Report: Boston College lands Southern Miss graduate transfer

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT

    Johnathan Williams III, Aaron Brown AP

    Aaron Brown averaged 9.9 points per game and shot 39 percent from three last season, and he’ll be eligible to play immediately.

  9. NCAA takes next step in appeal of Ed O’Bannon lawsuit ruling

    Aug 22, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

    NCAA_Logo AP

    Having stated their intention of appealing the ruling in the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the NCAA filed a notice of appeal on Thursday.

  10. Texas A&M lands important 2015 front court commitment

    Aug 22, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT

    D1Circuit.com D1Circuit.com

    Five-star center Tyler Davis becomes Texas A&M’s first commitment, and he’s an important addition for Billy Kennedy.

  11. Michigan freshman discusses his return to the basketball court (VIDEO)

    Aug 22, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

    Austin Hatch checking into the game for the first time (Michigan Athletics) Austin Hatch checking into the game for the first time (Michigan Athletics)

    Austin Hatch, who saw his first action in a Michigan uniform on Saturday, discussed his return to the court on The Today Show.

  12. Makeover of Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse nearing completion

    Aug 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    Brandon Miller Brandon Miller

    Upon completion, Hinkle Fieldhouse will have a brand new look while preserving the building’s storied past.

  13. Big Ten releases conference schedule: Michigan, Wisconsin meet January 24

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT

    John Beilein AP

    The conference tournament will now span five days, with there being a doubleheader on Wednesday, March 11 (11 seed vs. 14 seed, 12 seed vs. 13 seed).

  14. Four-star combo forward decommits from Ohio State

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT

    mitchell

    More than two months after his older brother left the football program, Mickey Mitchell has decided to decommit from Ohio State.

  15. Power forward becomes Missouri’s first 2015 commitment

    Aug 21, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT

    Kim Anderson AP

    6-foot-7 forward Kevin Puryear was a point forward for his high school team last season.

  16. Creighton’s logos draw ire of Major League Baseball franchise

    Aug 21, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Creighton University Creighton University

    The Toronto Blue Jays aren’t thrilled with Creighton filing an application to trademark its logo, which was unveiled last September.

  17. Bounceback season lands formerly maligned Big 12 coach an extension

    Aug 21, 2014, 7:21 PM EDT

    Baylor Bears v Texas Longhorns Getty Images

    Rick Barnes entered last season on nearly every pundit’s “hot seat” rankings, only to turn things around and win 24 games.

  18. Little League phenom has dreams of playing for Geno Auriemma

    Aug 21, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT

    Mo'ne Davis Mo'ne Davis

    Mo’ne Davis is currently focused on winning a LLWS title, but down the line she really wants to run the point at UConn.

  19. Former Temple great returns to join Fran Dunphy’s coaching staff

    Aug 21, 2014, 4:37 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Aaron McKie ranks sixth on Temple’s all-time scoring list, and he played 13 seasons in the NBA.

  20. Kevin Ollie wisely adds series with Ohio State, Arizona

    Aug 21, 2014, 3:57 PM EDT

    Kevin Ollie AP

    UConn’s league schedule is only getting weaker. They need to beef up in the non-conference.