by WES FERGUSON
A whirlwind summer came to a standstill on Sunday for Lehman High point guard and college prospect De’Andre Carson.
For the past four months, Carson has been traveling to state and national tournaments with Ray Jackson’s Rising Stars, an elite AAU squad composed of some of the Austin area’s most talented high school basketball players. Competing in the 2012 AAU Boys Basketball Super Showcase in Orlando, Fla., Carson and his teammates found themselves battling in a tie game in the final seconds of a third-round match against the Queen City Prophets of Cincinnati, Ohio.
With time set to expire, Patrick Strake, last year’s District 15-5A offensive player of the year for Austin High School, was called for a costly defensive foul.
“One guy hit one free throw, and we lost with 1.3 seconds left,” said Kevin Robinson, the Rising Stars’ head coach. “It was so close it could have been a no-call, and we would have gone into overtime.”
Instead, they were knocked out of the national tournament. The Rising Stars won’t have much time to lick their wounds, however. They are set to turn around and fly to Missouri this weekend for the Kansas City Hardwood Classic, part of a whistle-stop tour that Carson has used to hone his skills against top competition and for college scouts to evaluate the pint-sized point guard.
So far, he’s received interest from several mid-tier universities.
“I think I’ll have more college options after this AAU season,” said Carson, who is entering his senior season at Lehman and is a three-time All District performer. “I think my basketball IQ is great, and my ability to shoot keeps me from going in the paint a lot, but I definitely have the ability to go inside. I just play my game, and I hope it attracts coaches.”
At 5-foot-8, Carson must rely on that hoops IQ, as well as his quickness, to perform on both sides of the ball against AAU players who tend to be taller and more athletic than the guards he faces in District 27-4A, according to his coach.
“His height has never been a hindrance because he’s so tough. He’s more confident than most kids,” Robinson said. “He’s a leader on the floor, and when he puts pressure on the ball it changes the whole game for everybody, because they can’t run their offense.”
Carson has also excelled in his first three years for the Lobos, but Lehman boys basketball head coach Thomas Acker said Carson’s game actually improves as the level of competition becomes fiercer.
“He’s still fighting the stigma of being 5-feet, 8-inches tall, but there’s no doubt in my mind he can play at the next level,” Acker said. “When we watch him play on his select team with other guys who can do some things, he becomes a lot more dangerous.”
When the AAU season concludes later this summer and Carson turns his attention back to the Lobos, he’ll find a supporting cast that includes three-point sharpshooter Manny Santibanez but not much height in the paint. Acker said he has challenged Carson to be a more vocal leader, to be more consistent when shooting three-pointers and remain under control when driving into the lane, and to work on his defense away from the basket.
He helped the Lobos reach the playoffs in his sophomore year before falling short as a junior. In 2012-13, the team’s playoff fate is squarely on Carson’s shoulders.
“This is his final year, and no one wants to get back to the playoffs more than him. I know that. There’s pressure on De’Andre, but he’s got big shoulders. He likes it,” Acker said. “He’s not a selfish player, either. He knows when it’s time to look for his, but he’s also OK with giving the ball up.
“Coming into his senior year, the coaches know there’s going to be no surprises with De’Andre. He’s our primary ball handler. So we’re going to have to make sure that as a staff and as a team, we have the role players he needs. If he has guys making perimeter shots, if Manny is sitting on the wing and hits two or three three-pointers in the third quarter, it’s going to stretch the floor. All those things are going to free up De’Andre to be De’Andre.”
Carson said he’s also been working with his Lobo teammates this summer and has encouraged them to put in the time in the gym and weight room to be ready for the upcoming UIL season. He said he’s also taken his coaches’ advice to heart and is learning to be the floor leader the Lobos need.
“Sometimes I can be vocal, and sometimes I’m not, but I’ve been working on it a lot lately,” he said. “That’s one of the roles of a point guard. He’s the captain of the team out there. My goal is to make it to the playoffs, no matter what. Anything I have to do to help my team make the playoffs, I’m going to do it.”