By most accounts, ASU point guard Jahii Carson would have been a first-round NBA draft pick had he decided to leave school after his freshman year. Instead, Carson decided to return to Tempe to improve his game and finish what he and his teammates began last season.
"I felt like I let my team down," said Carson, a Mesa High School graduate who led the Sun Devils to an improbable 22-win season in 2012-13 but came up short of one of his top goals. "I didn't push the way we should've pushed to get us to the NCAA tournament, and that's something I want to accomplish."
Carson led the Sun Devils and was third among all Pac-12 players in points and assists per game during the 2012-13 season, which was good enough to earn him Co-Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors.
But improving in various statistical categories is not on the forefront of Carson's mind as the Devils get ready to open their 2013-14 campaign. "When the team does well, the individual statistics and awards will come," he said. "Winning the Pac-12 championship and getting to the NCAA tournament – I think my individual awards will come from us winning basketball games.
"We won 22 games last year, which was a huge accomplishment for us. But winning the Pac-12 championship and getting to the NCAA tournament, that's what everybody's goal is."
ASU head men's basketball coach Herb Sendek agreed that Carson is correct to be less concerned with stats than he is with making his teammates better.
"You can have numbers that aren't as good and be a much better player," he said. "Numbers are indicators at best, but if you're not careful, they can be equally misleading. Just because you score less doesn't mean you're not playing better. There are a lot of things that lie underneath the surface."
Even though he averaged over 18 points per game last season, Sendek said Carson has worked hard in the offseason to make sure that a higher percentage of his shots find the net.
"The improvement Jahii has shown through the preseason is his shooting," he said. "I think he has a good measure of confidence with his range of shooting right now."
With a team led by an NBA-caliber guard who likes to push the ball up the court, Carson said Sun Devil fans should expect an exciting, up-tempo brand of basketball at Wells Fargo Arena this season.
"We're going to bring a different type of energy, a faster paced game," he said. "If we can get that fan love, enthusiasm, and energy that they bring to the football games, I definitely think that will help our energy and should bring more wins and a more winning culture to the whole area."
After all, it's that pursuit of a winning culture, both on an individual and team level, which brought Jahii back to the Valley for at least one more season.
"Going to the NBA is a big step, and I wanted to be more mature mentally and physically," he said.
"It comes down to being better and improving yourself – just being an overall leader, working on my game, remaining hungry, and trying to just make everybody better and getting everybody shots, because the better they are, the better I'll be."