TEMPE — The remnant of a class project remained stuck to Jahii Carson’s chest earlier this week — “Hello My Name is … Jahii.”
The Arizona Wildcats have never seen Arizona State’s star freshman guard in person — but they undoubtedly know his name.
On Christmas Day, before ever playing a conference game, Carson declared himself the best point guard in the Pac-12.
He’s averaging 17.1 points and 5.2 assists, the first freshman, anywhere, to top 17 and five since Seton Hall’s Shaheen Holloway did it in 1996-97.
He averages 36.3 minutes, the most in the Pac-12 and more than any player in the Herb Sendek era at ASU.
To counter the pounding, Sendek tries to take him out around media timeouts, which give him an extra few minutes of rest.
The Mesa High School grad does his part, sleeping 10 hours per night — from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. or so. Carson, who sat out last season after failing to qualify, hasn’t always spent so much time resting.
“Since conference hit, that’s a totally different ballgame,” he said. “That’ll wear you down, right there.”
If conference play is one thing, today’s rivalry game is another.
The son of an ASU grad mother, Carson grew up attending UA-ASU games at Wells Fargo Arena. He was inspired by former ASU great James Harden to play in Tempe.
“That’s one of the games you look forward to as a kid growing up and wanting to play college basketball,” Carson said. “It’s the rival.
“If you’re a guy that wants to go to Duke, you dream about Carolina. At Michigan, you dream about Michigan State.
“And Arizona-Arizona State’s one of the games I’ve been looking forward to ever since the season started.”
At 14-3 (3-1), the Sun Devils have reason to be excited. With Carson, ASU plays man-to-man defense and runs on offense after turnovers, bringing a frenetic energy not seen at Wells Fargo Arena in years.
“He’s the throttle of ASU,” Wildcats coach Sean Miller said. “It really starts with him —when he has a big game, it usually means everybody has a big game.
“Because he has such a knack of making big plays, both for himself and other people.”
Nick Johnson used to be one of those people.
He and Carson first played on the same basketball team at age 7. By 9, Johnson, already flashing his freakish athleticism, could jump and touch the backboard.
The two played on all-state youth teams and in camps together, and were close friends through their junior high years. Carson said he and Johnson kept each other updated when they began considering college scholarships.
“He’s always been a confident guy,” Johnson said. “With the success he’s had, he has a reason to be. But he’s pretty much had that about him the whole way.”
Short of AAU ball, the two last faced each other in eighth grade. Neither remembered who won.
Carson, with a smile, took a guess.
“I’d like to think my team won that game,” he said.
Despite the talk, Carson shouldn’t get too carried away today, Sendek said.
“It's just the way he's wired,” the coach said. “He has an amazing ability, for a young guy, to just focus on the task at hand and play the game — and not let a lot of things distract him from doing what he's capable of doing."
Carson’s teammates have been preparing him for today.
“They just say the tensions are high in general,” he said. “They wake up in the morning, and they know they got to come out here and play like they never played before.
“It’s a hometown thing.”
With wide-ranging implications. With a win, Carson’s next nametag could be unnecessary.
“Beating U of A,” he said, “will give us a lot of national pub.”