Felix, Carson’s bond driving force behind ASU’s success

Senior Carrick Felix (left) and redshirt freshman Jahii Carson have a unique relationship on and off the court. After knowing each other for six years, their bond has propelled the Arizona State University basketball team into contention for a spot in the NCAA tournament. (Photo by Murphy Bannerman)

Senior Carrick Felix (left) and redshirt freshman Jahii Carson have a unique relationship on and off the court. After knowing each other for six years, their bond has propelled the Arizona State University basketball team into contention for a spot in the NCAA tournament. (Photo by Murphy Bannerman)

 

Senior wing Carrick Felix and redshirt freshman point guard Jahii Carson argue about everything.

“Air heads ???? Or laffy taffy ??” Carson tweeted three weeks ago when the ASU men’s basketball team traveled to Washington. “Laffy taffy better sorry lol.”

Carson has over 7,800 followers. Felix has just over 800. Advantage to the younger Carson.

“I’m going to win, because more of my followers see it than his, so that’s why he get mad,” Carson said. He also takes credit for Felix’s recent activity on Twitter.

The debates continued though. Who sings better: Miguel or John Legend? Who dresses better: Kanye West or A$AP Rocky?

“The things he looks at and things I look at are the same, but we have different opinions, so we’re always going back and forth,” Carson said. “He has a different style than me. But I know his style great, as he knows my style great. Things I like he knows I like, and he just tries to argue with me sometimes.”

Carson and Felix bicker behind the scenes like they’re siblings, but on the court, they’re the dynamic duo for the ASU basketball team that is making a push toward the NCAA Tournament this season.

They’ve known each other for over six years.

“They always have fun together,” sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling said. “They live together on the road. They always have stories to tell in their past…They have a great relationship and it shows on the court too.”

Carson and Felix catch a breath during a break in the action against Stanford on Feb. 10. (Photo by Samuel Rosenbaum)

Carson and Felix catch a breath during a break in the action against Stanford on Feb. 10. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

Felix and Carson met while playing with the Arizona Magic in AAU ball. Felix was an unknown Goodyear Millennium High product looking to get noticed, while Carson was heading into his sophomore year. They knew of each other, but they didn’t really know each other that well.

Felix spent two years at College of Southern Idaho after the AAU circuit. He was offered a scholarship to Duke after his time in junior college. He was about to become coach Mike Krzyzweski’s first junior college transfer, but CBSSports.com reported at the time Felix wasn’t admitted to the school.

Felix went on to return home and sign with ASU.

“You can call it academic, you can call it whatever you want to call it,” Felix said. “But it was my decision. It’s my responsibility, and now I’m out here.”

Carson was deemed as arguably ASU’s biggest in-state basketball commit. However, the Mesa High alum was ruled academically ineligible last season, and it delayed his debut as a Sun Devil.

“I kept to myself during that situation at that time,” Carson said. “I had known Carrick for years, but we had been separated when he went to JUCO (junior college), and I was in high school.”

It wasn’t until a candid conversation last summer that Carson and Felix developed their big brother and little brother relationship. The Sun Devils lost a number of key players during the offseason, including Kyle Cain, Keala King and leading scorer Trent Lockett.

“He was talking to me about the adversity that we both overcame, how we’re both better people after that and how we can help this basketball team with the mess that we overcame — that we can just make everybody more tougher and that much more physical,” Carson said.

Carson and Felix got to know each other better. They reflected back on AAU memories, and Felix gave him advice for his first season.

“There’s going to be thousands of people doubting him and not believing in him,” Felix said. “But as long as he knows that our team and his family believe in him, we’re going to be OK.”

Carson also talked to Felix about being aggressive during his last season as a Sun Devil. The results from those conversations have paid off for Carson, Felix and the team this season.

Carson said they anticipate each other’s moves in transition.

(Photo by Murphy Bannerman)

(Photo by Murphy Bannerman)

He said there’s times where Felix will push the ball up court and dish it off to Carson so he can use his speed to slice up defenders. There are other times Carson will act like he’s pulling up for a mid-range jumper and dishes it off to Felix because he knows the senior will cut in transition.

“We both bring big time energy,” Carson said. “With us two guys on the court, I think our team has no choice but to thrive off it and carry that on too. We have a lot of energy on the court at times, and when we’re not energetic and we’re not energy filled, I think that’s when we have relapses and we start to lose basketball games like the one at Utah. But when we have the energy going like we did at Colorado, we’re tough. Everybody was tough and we pulled a win out.”

Carson leads the team in scoring and assists with 17.7 points and 4.9 assists a game. He’s in the top five in both categories in the conference and has a chance to win Pac-12 Freshman of the Year as well as Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“If this was me when I was 16 and I was sitting here and someone would tell me Jahii would be the player he is today, I wouldn’t believe it,” Felix said. “He was a just a little knucklehead back in the day. Honestly, I thought he was too small to play basketball, but the way he’s grown, his maturity and his overall play is amazing. Like he always says, he was born to play to basketball. I think he’s improved so much over the past couple of years.”

Felix averages 14.2 points and eight rebounds a game. He’s collected 11 double-doubles this season and has a legitimate shot at getting drafted in the NBA.  He has a case for Pac-12 Player of the Year, along with Carson. He also has a shot at Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Pac-12 Most Improved Player of the Year.

He was inconsistent during his first two seasons at ASU. Now, it’s strange to see him have an off night this season.

“That just goes to show hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” Carson said. “He has a lot of talent, but he hasn’t been of that skill until this summer when he was working in the gym, working on his skills and working on his game…I was sitting over here looking at guy who worked so hard and now he has an opportunity to put himself in a position to get guaranteed millions of dollars.”

Those individual accolades wouldn’t mean much without the overall team’s success. ASU looks to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

ASU has a chance to get 22 wins this season — the same amount they’ve had the last two seasons combined — and a shot at a Pac-12 regular season title.

“I can definitely say this year a lot of the younger guys are wanting this,” Felix said. “Not just Jahii, we have Jonathan Gilling, Eric (Jacobsen), Bo (Barnes), Evan (Gordon), even the walk-ons. … We have a lot of guys who are in it just because they want to give something back to the seniors, because we’ve been here for so long. Just to have that year round is a good feeling.”

Even beyond the court, Felix graduated with his bachelor’s in Communications last spring. He’s currently wrapping up his master’s degree in Liberal Studies. Carson said he will have the opportunity to graduate in three years if he enrolls in courses this summer.

Coach Herb Sendek commented on the relationship Felix and Carson have.

“It’s just a group that gets along easily and they genuinely like each other,” Sendek said. “Carrick and Jahii are just one example of that.”

Felix said his relationships with his teammates will last beyond college. He has two older brothers, but he’s never had a younger one.

He does now.

“It’s definitely funny for me to be the older one in this situation because I was always getting bullied by my older brothers,” Felix said. “The relationship that me and Jahii have, it’s amazing man.”

(Photo by Molly J. Smith)

(Photo by Molly J. Smith)

Reach the reporter at mtesfats@asu.edu