Nahziah Carter thinks he’s the greatest basketball player in the world.
As soon as Washington head coach Mike Hopkins said it, the media gathered around him laughed.
But Hopkins wasn’t kidding.
“That wasn’t a joke,” Hopkins said. “Because in his mind, that’s what makes him great. Sometimes he takes a shot and you’re going, ‘Oh my gosh.’ He thinks he’s making everything that he shoots.
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“He’s an aggressive guy and he can be that spark because he has that confidence. He’s going to go in there and be aggressive. He’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
Hopkins chuckled when a reporter followed up, asking if Carter was the best player in the world. Not right now, Hopkins said, grinning. But Carter’s work ethic, he added, is incredible.
“He’s a special player,” Hopkins said of the Huskies’ 6-foot-6 sophomore forward. “He’s got confidence. But that’s his mind. So much of this stuff, you get kids questioning their confidence. Not with him.”
Carter showed how valuable he can be off the bench during UW’s 66-63 victory over San Diego on Monday. He scored 11 points, jumpstarting the Huskies’ stagnant offense when he entered the game with 12:32 left in the first half.
The Huskies were trailing 16-12, but Carter immediately hit a 3-pointer to pull them within one point, 16-15. Later, he tied the game with a jumper and followed with another 3-pointer to put UW ahead 21-19. He then assisted on Jaylen Nowell’s jumper that stretched the Huskies’ lead to 24-19.
With 4:18 left before the break, he hit another jumper to give UW a 27-21 advantage.
“It’s just good to come in with energy,” Carter said. “When the starters are in, there’s more attention on them. So when I come in, maybe I can sneak in and give us a boost on offense.”
At 10.0 points per game, Carter is one of four players averaging double figures this season. He was a bright spot in the Huskies’ offense during the 88-66 loss to Auburn, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and two steals.
“He’s a really good energy player,” said guard Jaylen Nowell. “He’s very athletic. When he comes in and has it going like that, it opens up everything for everyone else.”
When Noah Dickerson is out of the game, Hopkins said the Huskies try to open up the court more and drive to the basket. Carter is key to that strategy, and has the athleticism to be successful.
“We got some open some spots,” Hopkins said. “Naz was able to take him off the bounce. His mid-range shot is as good as anybody. … Started just taking guys off the bounce. That’s what he can do.”
Carter played in all 34 games as a freshman last year, averaging 14.2 minutes and 5.1 points per game. So far in this season, he’s averaging 17.7 minutes.
Nowell has been the star of the sophomore class, but Carter and Hameir Wright have been key off the bench. Hopkins said Wright, who is averaging 4.0 points and 4.0 rebounds, might be the Huskies’ best all-around player.
As for Carter…
“We believe he can be that scorer off the bench when you don’t have it,” Hopkins said.
Getting bench contributions will be particularly important as the Huskies head to the Vancouver Classic. The Huskies will open against Santa Clara on Sunday before facing Texas A&M on Tuesday and Minnesota on Wednesday.
“(Carter’s) a huge weapon for us,” Hopkins said. “To be able to get that production in the last two games has been huge.”