There’s no team sport that an individual player can impact with sheer presence alone more than basketball.
A single player’s presence can entirely change the culture of a team. It is easy to credit the superstar for a team’s success and scapegoat him when it fails.
It’s not something that ASU coach Herb Sendek said he wanted at the beginning of the season, but redshirt freshman guard Jahii Carson has become almost everything for ASU men’s basketball in just one year.
The Sun Devils can credit junior center Jordan Bachynski and senior wing Carrick Felix’s improved play for their turnaround.
But it is apparent that Carson’s presence is the biggest factor from last season.
His decision to return for one more season signifies a lot more than a team’s best player coming back for another year.
Having Carson for one more year gives the Sun Devils a sense of consistency, something it lacked since James Harden led the team to NCAA tournament in 2009. It will help attendance at Wells Fargo Arena, which saw the student section expand to the upper rows of the venue toward the end of the season.
Instead of leaving ASU back to square one, the Sun Devils now have a realistic shot to contend for a Pac-12 title. ASU loses only three seniors in Felix, guard Chris Colvin and center Ruslan Pateev. It leaves Carson with a familiar supporting cast to work with.
The heat on Sendek’s seat is cooler now.
Sure, the Sun Devils saw an enormous jump in wins last season because of a weak schedule.
But they will likely match that same success next season, but having Carson for another year addresses the team’s low retention rate.
ASU has had many players transferring out of the program in recent seasons. According to The Arizona Republic, Sendek is up for a $600,000 retention bonus if he remains with ASU after the 2013-14 season.
Ultimately, it gives more hope for a program that has seen little success in basketball since the Harden days and keeps it alive for an additional season.
Carson would’ve had a pretty good reason to leave for the NBA Draft too. His major weakness as a draft prospect is being a short 5 feet, 10 inches, something he can’t fix playing college basketball.
He could’ve easily joined other freshmen taking advantage of a weak draft class according to NBA analysts.
To give an idea of how weak this season’s draft class is, Kentucky freshman forward Nerlens Noel declared for the NBA Draft Monday after missing the later half of his freshman season with a torn ACL.
Even with the injury, he is expected to be this year’s No. 1 pick.
Carson’s decision to stay could spark something ASU football’s Will Sutton might have started in January — a trend of high-profile athletes that want to stay at ASU for an extended amount of time.
It seems to follow the new culture Sun Devil Athletics has established.
Of course, much pressure awaits Carson when he takes the court next season.
With Cal junior guard Allen Crabbe and UCLA wing Shabazz Muhammad leaving for the NBA, Carson should be the presumed favorite to win Pac-12 Player of the Year.
He’s no longer coming in as ASU’s well-kept secret and Pac-12 teams will inevitably look to apply more defensive pressure on him next season, especially with the Sun Devils not having Felix alongside Carson.
He must develop his long-range jumper, which is another flaw he admits he needs to improve on prior to going to the NBA.
But with all of his late-game heroics from last season and all of the expectations that were set prior to playing his first game, pressure shouldn’t be anything new for Carson.
Is it basketball season yet?
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