As impressive as it has been to watch Herb Sendek lead Arizona State to three straight 20-win seasons, the surest sign of the Sun Devils' progress might be the coveted recruit they landed this weekend.
Sendek out-dueled many elite programs for the state of Arizona's top point guard prospect.
Jahii Carson, Rivals.com's 49th-ranked player in the Class of 2011, chose the Sun Devils over rival Arizona and a long list of other suitors including UCLA, Washington, St. John's and Memphis. The speedy 5-foot-10 point guard from Mesa High joins former Sun Devil James Harden and incoming freshman guard Keala King as top 50 prospects who have committed to Sendek.
"Since he came to ASU, coach Sendek has turned the program totally around," Carson told Rivals affiliate ArizonaPreps.com. "Me being an Arizona native, it would be common for me to go to Arizona and be a really good point guard. But I can be the first one in a really long time to come out of Arizona and go to Arizona State and be a really good point guard. So that's something that really appealed to me also."
It may seem surprising that Carson would pick Arizona State over Arizona given the Wildcats' history of producing elite point guards, but part of the reason for the choice may have been fellow guard Nick Johnson's recent announcement he's Tucson-bound. Still, Arizona certainly wanted Carson to play alongside Johnson in its backcourt and Carson claims he had even been leaning toward Arizona State the whole time.
"I was pretty sure committing to ASU was what I wanted to do for a while but still had a little bit of uncertainty before I went to the Nike Global Challenge (in Oregon two weeks ago)," Carson said. "When I came back though we set up the visit to go to see their workout today and it was the first time I was there with both my mom and my dad and it just felt right. I knew it was the right time."
Keeping both Johnson and Carson at Arizona and Arizona State is a step in the right direction for a beleaguered Pac-10 that has lost too many of these top West Coast recruits to other programs in recent years. Sendek targeted Carson as his top priority in the Class of 2011 from the get-go, even going through the media to dispel the notion that Arizona State is a slow-down Princeton-style team in an effort to lure him.
Whether Sendek follows through on his promise to play at a faster pace remains to be seen, but Arizona State has typically adapted its style to its personnel and Carson is at his best in the open court. Either way, the Sun Devils have their heir apparent at point guard.