PHOENIX — Short on size. Long on athleticism.
That’s what Jahii Carson, the former ASU Sun Devil by way of Mesa High School, must fight and display as he crisscrosses the country working out for NBA teams.
In Atlanta on Tuesday, Carson was back home in Phoenix on Wednesday to work out for the team he followed growing up.
“It’s crazy,” he said as he stood before a throng of reporters wearing a black No. 2 practice jersey following an hour-long workout. “I took a deep breath and I was like, ‘man, next level is here.'”
An All-American in high school and a two-time First-Team All-Pac-12 performer in college, Carson does not lack in basketball skill. He does, however, lack in the one category that separates the NBA from nearly every other profession: height.
Carson measured 5’9 ¾” without shoes, the shortest among all players measured at the combine in Chicago.
“It’s always difficult at that size,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “You’ve just got to play harder than everybody else and run faster than everybody else and you have a chance.”
Added GM Ryan McDonough, “Usually at that size you do need to be fairly explosive to make it in the NBA and luckily for him, he is.”
Carson’s explosiveness separated himself from others when, again, at the combine he recorded a maximum vertical leap (height a player reaches taking a step into the jump) of 43.5 inches, which was tied for the best mark among all prospects with Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown.
Carson, who led ASU in scoring (18.6) and assists (4.6) and was third in rebounding (4.0), believes his game, the athleticism plus the decision making, will transition well to the NBA.
“I’m able to cause havoc both offensively and defensively,” he said. “There’s no three seconds defensively so I’m able to get to the cup. And once I’m in the paint, it’s easy for me to find my teammates, so I definitely think that my speed and quickness will definitely translate to the next level.”
During the workout, which also included North Dakota State guard Taylor Braun, Penn State guard Tim Frazier, Stanford forward Josh Huestis, Baylor forward Cory Jefferson and Florida forward Patric Young, the Suns wanted to see how Carson shot the three-ball and defended bigger guards.
“I actually shot the ball pretty well,” he said. “I’ve been working on my jump shot extremely hard and I think it showed today.”
As far as his defense, that is something that may ultimately determine his success or failure in the league.
“Defensively, he’ll have to be in really good shape,” McDonough said. “He’ll have to use his strength. He has decent length as well. He’ll need to get up into guys because he’s not going to be able to challenge when he’s away from the ball. He’ll need to be right up defensively, pressuring the ball, making point guards turn their back and work hard against him because he’s not a guy who can lay back and then use his length to contest shots.”
Carson, according to McDonough, fits in a similar category as a Nate Robinson or more recently an Isaiah Thomas, players who play bigger than their stature.
“We’re certainly not a team who dismisses guys on the ‘look test’, he doesn’t look the part or he’s not big enough or cross guys off because they’re a little undersized,” McDonough said. “I think you can make some mistakes that way, like most teams did with Isaiah. We evaluate them all and (Carson) certainly showed well out here today.”
Carson said he’s got a workout scheduled next with Milwaukee and visits with nine more teams on his immediate itinerary.
He’s projected to be a second-round selection, but that has done nothing to diminish his decision to leave ASU after his sophomore season.
“No regrets,” Carson said, “just a bright future.”