#TGW: All That Jazz
Jasmine Carson is finding her rhythm, keeping it hot on both ends of the floor
By Jon Cooper
Memphis, Tennessee proudly refers to itself as the home of blues, soul and rock and roll. It’s where legends as diverse as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, B.B. King, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding first laid down tracks at places like Sun Studio, Stax Recording Studio and Beale Street.
Lately, another Memphis native, sophomore two-guard Jasmine Carson, is using Bobby Cremins Court at McCamish Pavilion as her stage to make some pretty sweet music. Call it her version of “Hot Jazz.”
While “Hot Jazz” is normally associated with Nashville, the 5-10 Carson’s sweet J, lightning quick moves to the hoop, her downbeat defense and upbeat attitude have been welcome in Atlanta and has keyed the Yellow Jackets’ 11-3 (2-1) start.
Carson, who played her first two years at Memphis Central before playing her final year at McEachern High School in Powder Springs, heads into the Jackets next game, Thursday night in Tallahassee at the Donald L. Tucker Center against Florida State (14-1, 3-1) — leading the team in three-point shooting (27 three-point field goals made) and percentage (.409), ranking second in scoring (11.0 ppg), and even third in steals (18). She’s doing this in 22.7 minutes (fifth on the team), all coming off the bench!
“She’s quite the weapon to have coming off the bench,” said head coach Nell Fortner. “‘Jazz’ is learning how to play basketball at a higher level, she’s learning how to stay engaged and focused and really stay within what we’re doing. She’s putting her best foot forward to be a really good basketball player.”
Carson, who saw action in 22 games as a freshman, averaged 2.0 points in 5.5 minutes, hit 11 threes on .289 shooting, with seven steals, is a year older, wiser and better. She has embraced the challenge set for her by Fortner and her staff and is having fun.
“It’s very fun,” she said. “I do whatever my team needs me to do. If it’s scoring, rebounding, giving energy, I’ll do that. The coaching staff makes it fun, I just really like this coaching staff. They give me freedom to do what I like to do.
“My teammates do as well. They pass me the ball when I’m open,” she added. “The energy, the mentality is different this year and we’re on a good road this year. I’m just very proud of this team.”
While Carson traces the team’s success to a different mentality and a new road, she credits her own to following the same mentality and road she’s always traveled. That road is one of resilience.
She showed both in her response to an opening night in Houston where she shot 2-for-10 and missed both three-point field goal attempts. Over the next three games Carson shot 18-for-30 (.600), 9-for-16 (.563) from three — setting her career high with 15 in the resounding win over Georgia on Nov. 17, then topping that with 21 three nights later against Georgia State. Her 47 points in those three games were three more than she scored her entire freshman year.
“I just trusted myself,” said Carson, who has seven double-digit-scoring games this season — including in all three ACC games — after having had one all last season, coincidentally, against Florida State. “I know that I’m a good scorer, that I can shoot the ball well. I just get in the gym and work on it every single day. Sometimes you’re going to have off-nights. Sometimes you’re going to have good nights. I shoot the ball with confidence every night.”
That confidence has led to fearlessness, which has made her a big-time threat in big spots, like in the fourth quarter on Jan. 2 at McCamish against No. 23 Miami. Down three in a game Tech had never led and trailed by 11 going into the final 10 minutes, Carson got the ball as the Jackets swung the ball around. She had the open look, stepped into the three and drained it to tie the game at 42.
“She hit a couple of threes tonight. They always feel big,” said Fortner. “When ‘Jazz’ hits them, they always just feel big to me.”
Her second three of the game — the first one was the Jackets’ first basket of the day, were the only ones the team made all day.
But the big plays Carson made that day, and makes this year, come from places besides behind the arc and on offense. They’re more frequently coming in transition and on the defensive end. She made plays in both areas on the possessions following that three.
After Miami’s Beatrice Mompremier missed the second of two free throws, Carson helped break the Hurricanes’ pressure, forwarding a pass to guard Lotta-Maj Lahtinen, hitting her in stride and allowing her to drive unimpeded to the basket for a layup to regain the lead. Carson then stripped the ball off the ensuing inbounds pass and fed Lahtinen again, this time for a short jumper in the lane that pushed the lead to three. The Jackets would never trail again.
“I think the steal to get my teammate open, to get her a shot, the steal to get Lotta-Maj a shot was the most important bucket of the night,” Carson said. “Many people don’t look at how fast I am on defense, but I do play the passing lanes very well.”
That she not only can but is making such plays is a big thing. Fortner is proud of that commitment to defense.
“I’m not so sure ‘Jazz’ has always been engaged in the defensive end of the floor but we’re telling her, ‘If you’re going to play on this team, you’ve got to play both ends,’” she said. “She’s really putting forth the effort to learn and understand. ‘Jazz’ is a really good athlete. She’s quick, she’s fast and she can be a heck of a defender. Now she’s got a learning curve on that part of the game, but I think she’s going to continue to grow as a player and we need her to do that.”
Against Miami, Carson also showed maturity in her ability to get to the foul line and hit shots. She went 7-for-8 for the game (5-for-6 in the fourth). The rest of the team went 6-for-12.
“I’m a shooter. I really don’t drive in that much. But when I get on the line, my mentality is to knock it down,” said Carson, whose seven FTMs against the ‘Canes were one fewer than her career total coming into the game — she was 5-for-8 as a freshman, and 3-for-6 in the first 12 games, not even taking a free throw over the previous eight games.
The clutch shots from long distance and the line, the improved defensive commitment, and the court vision are all positive steps forward.
“That’s ‘Jazz’ growing up because a three feels good, there’s no doubt about it, but a steal feels really good in the heat of the battle,” Fortner said. “What she’s probably saying is, ‘My coaches are really going to be happy about that steal because this is something they need from me, they’ve been asking me to do it.’ So that was a big play for ‘Jazz’ and for us.”
Just how good she and this team can be is still to be seen but Carson has her goals set high. She is a computer science major, who would like to work for Apple. On the court, she’d like to play professionally in the WNBA. But there’s still work to be done on The Flats.
It’s what brought her to Georgia Tech from Memphis — she actually played her senior year at McEachern High School in Powder Springs — in the first place.
“I love the city of Atlanta. I love the fan base,” she said. “I wanted to make Georgia Tech a national contender. I wanted to put Georgia Tech on the map when I committed here.
“Coach Nell has a lot of confidence in me. She believes in all of my teammates,” she added. “I appreciate her every single day. The assistant coaches, they believe we can do anything we put our minds to.”
That’s music to Georgia Tech fans’ ears.