(Photo: Nick Krueger/WCSN)
Jahii Carson and Calaen Robinson are much more than just teammates on the basketball court. The two members of this Sun Devil backcourt tandem, touted by many media outlets as one of the fastest in the country this year, have been friends off the court for over 10 years.
“He’s taking everything in like a sponge and he’s under my wing,” Carson said. “He’s definitely one of my best friends and he gives me confidence because he looks up to me so much.”
Despite their friendship, both admit they have polar-opposite personalities, down to the fact that Robinson is a southpaw while Carson is right handed.
“I’m just kind of laid back, I like to smile all the time and keep the good vibes,” Robinson said.
Both Arizona natives, the two grew up playing AAU basketball, with and against each other, bouncing around teams such as the Arizona Gym Rats, Arizona Stars, and finally the Compton Magic.
“I’m a little bit more aggressive, he’s a little bit more laid back, I’m a little tougher, he’s a little softer but that’s why we get along so well,” Carson agreed.
In fact, it was Carson’s determination that helped Robinson earn a spot on the Compton Magic Elite team in AAU.
“They wanted him to play Compton Magic second team,” Carson recalled. “I was like ‘no, he’s going to have to play Compton Magic Elite with me.’ ”
Robinson was thankful to Carson for putting in a good word.
“That helped my recruiting process a lot,” Robinson said.
The two also competed in high school against each other. They squared off in a barn burner on Jan. 27th, 2009 which Robinson’s Corona Del Sol won 85-83 in overtime. Carson was just a sophomore in the game, in which he had 41 points, shot 50 percent from the field and went six of ten from beyond the arc.
“It was my first year playing varsity ball,” Robinson said. “I think that was the first time he had an off-the-dribble dunk in a game, so that was crazy.”
The two made the headlines throughout their high school careers. Robinson won a state title his senior year at Corona Del Sol and Carson had an unforgettable 56-point effort against Brophy Prep in the state semifinals in 2011 while at Mesa.
“It’s just crazy. I mean, we definitely tried to dominate high school basketball so we’re definitely going to try and dominate college basketball together as well,” Carson said.
Carson shipped off to Arizona State but was ruled academically ineligible for his freshman campaign and had to sit out the year.
“We kind of lost touch that year,” Carson said.
Meanwhile Robinson led Corona Del Sol to 30 straight wins ending with a 32-1 record and the state crown.
“He was just trying to focus and get back on track,” Robinson said. “ It was good time for him to go work on his game and be as great as he is right now.”
Finally it came time for Robinson to decide where he would play college basketball. As a three-star recruit, Robinson had offers from BYU, St. Mary’s, Weber State, and UNLV but chose ASU.
“I actually really didn’t even know that he was thinking about Arizona State, I was just thinking about what I was doing with my situation,” Carson said. “I think one of the reasons he came to ASU though was to play with me as well.”
Carson and Robinson were now at the same school and ready to play but hit another speed bump when Robinson was ruled ineligible for his freshman campaign.
“He (Carson) guided me through a lot of stuff. He just told me where to keep my head and don’t give up,” Robinson said.
Carson was able to advise Robinson well, since he had the same experience the year before.
“I told him, come back and work hard, when people look at you sitting out they look at it with a negative eye without knowing anybody’s story,” Carson said. “If you dominate and kill, all that will be forgotten and I think he’s starting to realize that.”
Carson has been pushing Robinson hard since his arrival at ASU to toughen up his game. He stressed Robinson’s need to attack more and not “defer.”
“I try and grab him and tell him ‘you have this ability, you can do this’,” Carson said. “I’m a little more physical than him and that’s one on the things I’m trying to work with him on now.”
Despite Carson’s tough love, Robinson agreed and knows what he has to do.
“He has definitely been showing me how to get my confidence and that ‘don’t let anybody push you around’-type mentality.”
With these close friends now on the same team and ready to play, it comes as no surprise that the two were roommates on the team’s recent trip to China.
“We just chill together,” Robinson said. “He’s always just been that big brother to me.”
Whether it’s getting each other onto AAU teams, giving support during ineligibility, or improving each other’s game on the court, it looks like Carson and Robinson will remain friends far beyond their time at ASU, even if Carson ends up in the NBA next season.
“We have a friendship beyond basketball,” Carson said. “He’s my guy.”