Jahii Carson is the lone high school player on the squad of 13 players selected as finalists for the team. A final cut down to 12 players could take place prior to the team’s departure to Latvia on June 24th.
The point guard told Devils Digest that he felt good about his chances remaining on the team and representing his country in their quest to defend the gold medal it won in the 2009 U19 World Championship.
Devils Digest: Congratulations on making the finalists’ list for Team USA. You must be very excited about this honor.
Jahii Carson: “I’m feeling pretty good right now. I had a good practice today and I’m just out there working hard every day.”
DD: You were part of a small group of players that was invited a few weeks ago to try out for the team. Even though you were just honored then by the invitation you obviously didn't come all this way expecting to get cut. Are you surprised you have been able to come this far or is this what you anticipated all along?
JC: “I really didn’t know what to expect. I just came out here and played the best I can play. I knew everyone here had the same amount of chance to prove themselves. I knew that if I came here and played to the best of my abilities that I would have a good chance of making the team.
“When they called my name (as a finalist) I wasn’t that surprised because I knew I had a good run since I got here and I played well.”
DD: What is some of the feedback you have been getting from Team USA coaches since you started the tryouts?
JC: “The positive feedback I’m getting is how they like the way I push the ball, (execute) the ball screens and being aggressive. On defense they told me to keep the bigger guards like, Keith Appling and Joe Jackson, in front of me. I can’t always use my athleticism to make up on not playing good defense. So I just have to be more aggressive, and also work on boxing guys out and taking charges.”
DD: You obviously played throughout your career at the highest level of AAU club basketball competition. How does the level of competition at the Team USA tryouts compare to that club level?
JC: “When I was 16 years old and playing AAU ball I played a lot of the time against 17 and 18 year old players. Now it’s kind of the same because I just finished high school and I’m playing against players who have one year of college basketball experience. But I think the level of competition here is tougher than (AAU) club basketball. These guys aren’t just a lot stronger but also more intelligent. They know what they want to do with the basketball and they move very fast. This is the highest level of competition I ever played in.”
DD: I know you have been there with Team USA for less than a week but what are some of the things you have already been able to pick up since you arrived?
JC: “We have been working a lot on motion offense, pushing the ball, help defense…just reviewing some different things like that. The biggest thing I have been learning is the FIBA rules that we all need to adjust to.”
DD: What has the experience of the Team USA tryouts given you in terms of what you can take with you as you begin your college basketball career at ASU?
JC: “It can definitely help me get prepared for the physical nature of college basketball, as well as the intelligence and the effort you need to put on defense at that level. I think this experience with Team USA can help me with all that.”
DD: I’m sure you are proud to have made it this far for many different reasons, but the fact that you are the only player currently on the team who hasn’t played at the college basketball level yet must be a pretty big source of pride for you…
JC: “Definitely. Being the only high school guy I feel that I have a lot more to prove than the other guys. I’m just proud to not only represent myself but also having a chance to represent my country, but I also feel that I have to make a statement being the youngest guy here. That’s something I definitely feed off.”
DD: You are obviously not only representing yourself these days with Team USA but also Mesa High School and Arizona State. Can you talk about how important representing those two institutions is to you?
JC: “Being from Arizona I know a lot of people out there don’t think that the state has a good pool of basketball talent. A lot of people haven’t heard about Mesa, just about Phoenix or Tucson. So representing Mesa out here is very important to me.
“People have heard about Arizona State because of James Harden and they know that I can be a player that can also make an impact with ASU.”
DD: As far as the final selection process there still is a final cut of one player that can take place before you leave for Latvia. How do you feel about your chances of making that cut?
JC: “The coaches said that they may take all 13 players to the World Championship so they might not cut anyone else. So it’s not like the coaches want to cut another guard or another forward, they might take all of us overseas. Coaches said that if they feel that if somebody isn’t playing his best or isn’t a good fit then they could cut him.
“I do feel confident that I will be on the team. I had a good practice today and I don’t think I will be one of the weakest links.”