Saturday afternoon in Tempe their paths will cross on the college hardwood for the first time but Arizona State’s Jahii Carson and University of Arizona’s Nick Johnson are quite familiar with one another.
Growing up in the East Valley each played on the Arizona Stars AAU team as pre-teens before starring at the high school level (Carson at Mesa High, Johnson at Gilbert Highland and later Findlay Prep in Las Vegas). By the time each were seniors they were two of the most decorated basketball players in Arizona prep history.
Johnson, a five-star recruit, was rated the 40th overall prospect in the country choosing the Wildcats (15-1, 3-1) over ASU, Gonzaga, Oregon State, St. John’s, and Louisville. Carson initially committed to Oregon State before de-committing and choosing the Sun Devils. He had offers from Cal, Marquette, Memphis, Oregon State, St. John’s, and UCLA among others.
They haven’t played against one another in an official game in several years, but both are looking forward to this weekend.
Before the Pac-12 season Pros2Preps.com’s Brad Cesmat asked Carson on ‘Big Guy on Sports’ who he was most looking forward to playing against.
“Nick Johnson,” the 5’10 redshirt freshman said without hesitation. “He’s one of the guys I’ve been playing with for a long time. Every school that he was being recruited by was recruiting me and every rival school that he was being recruited by was recruiting me. We were trying to see where the other was going and go the opposite direction…I’m ready to go at his name.”
The same can be said for the sophomore Johnson (12.3 points per game, 3.8 rebounds) who has emerged as arguably the ‘Cats best all-around player.
“Me and [Jahii] pretty much grew up together,” Johnson told Cesmat on ‘Big Guy on Sports.’ “Growing up watching him progress…I’ve always watched and heard about him. I’m looking forward to [Saturday].”
Carson, who is averaging around 17 points and five assists per game for the Devils (14-3, 3-1), has rejuvenated Herb Sendek’s team and the Sun Devil fan base after two consecutive 20+ loss seasons. He’s also caught the attention of the national media as he’s helped guide ASU to a possible berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
“He’s spectacular,” former Phoenix Suns General Manager, now NBA on TNT and CBS college basketball analyst Steve Kerr told Cesmat. “The guy is one of the fastest players I’ve seen in a long time.”
Whether it’s a graceful move to the hoop or a freakish-athletic play like his game-saving block in the closing seconds of UofA’s win over then 17th-ranked San Diego State to claim the Diamond Head Classic Holiday Tournament in Honolulu, the 6’3 Johnson is turning heads himself.
“He might be my favorite player on the team,” Kerr explained. “I just love what Nick brings with the intensity defensively. He’s really smart. He makes good decisions with the ball. He’s improved his shooting.”
The UofA-ASU game alone doesn’t need a subplot but you can be sure people will be keeping a close eye on two of the Pac-12’s best guards who happen to be from right here in Phoenix.