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UW Huskies’ Nahziah Carter is soaring to new heights

Sometimes a dunk is worth more than two points if Nahziah Carter is doing the dunking.

When the 6-foot-6 athletic guard vaults over defenders and sails for one of his rim-rocking slams, then the quantitative value far exceeds a garden-variety basket.

“It’s a huge momentum play,” Carter said smiling. “That dunk can be the start of a run.”

Or the beginning of a brilliant career.

Nearing the midpoint of the season and Thursday’s 7 p.m. Pac-12 road opener at Utah (7-7, 1-1 Pac-12), the Huskies (10-4, 1-0) are counting on Carter to continue a hot streak in which he’s made the highlights with high-flying blocks, rebounds and dunks.

“It keeps getting better, better and better,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “Obviously he’s got so much incredible natural talent. He’s a guy that brings it.

“He’s got a great work ethic. He’s done great academically. The sky is the limit. He’s going to keep growing and growing. He’s as talented a wing player that I’ve ever coached. Now it’s a lot of film work and it’s a lot of study.”

Last season, Carter established himself as one of the best dunkers in the Pac-12 during an inconsistent freshman year filled with high-flying jams, head-scratching turnovers and inexplicable dormant stretches.

Carter returned to Montlake looking for an expanded role, but he couldn’t crack lineup for a 21-win team that returned all five starters.

“I love him because he thinks he’s the best player on the floor,” Hopkins said earlier this season. “If he played on the Lakers and it was Lakers-Bulls, he would feel like he’s the best player on the floor and that’s what makes him great.”

Carter’s frustrations grew early in the season when he displayed the familiar flashes of spectacular promise followed by bouts of inactivity.

Through the first 10 games of the season, there were times when Carter was best player on the court for UW. He tallied a team-high tying 16 points off the bench during an 88-66 loss at No. 11 Auburn on Nov. 9.

And then there was a miserable five-game stretch when Carter scored fewer than six points in four contests, including an 11-minute scoreless outing against then-No. 1 Gonzaga. It was the first time he didn’t score in 22 games.

Among UW players, Hopkins has the longest relationship with Carter from their days when he as a Syracuse assistant recruiting the Rochester, NY native who starred at Bishop Kearney High.

But they didn’t agree on what role Carter would play this season.

“Everybody wants to average 25 points a game and be an All-American and get every play ran for them,” Hopkins said. “That’s just human nature. A lot of these guys work so hard in the summer and they want larger roles.

“They want more and I thought at the beginning of the year, Naz was forcing it too much. He had already made up his mind on what he wanted to do and that hurt him.”

Admittedly, Carter isn’t big on patience and he yearns to be a star, but for now he’s content with a backup role where he averages 7.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 20.5 minutes.

“I’ve bought into what the coaches are telling me to do,” said Carter, who is playing his best stretch of basketball with the Huskies.

In the past four games, he’s averaging 10.3 points while shooting 70 percent from the field and collecting 6.8 rebounds.

“I feel more comfortable out there and more poised,” Carter said. “I really try to show only two emotions, happiness and seriousness. Not really fear or being mad or anxious or any of that. I feel like that’s helped my game out a lot too.”

Still, there are concerns his three-point shooting that’s dipped from 40.9 percent last season to 22.7 percent (5 of 22) this season.

Otherwise, Hopkins believes Carter is on the path to stardom.

“In terms for heart, desire, athleticism and focus, he’s at a high level,” Hopkins said. “He’s an attack guy. He’s going to be aggressive. He’s going to go at you and that’s what makes him great.”

Washington loses four seniors and if sophomore star Jaylen Nowell opts to enter the NBA draft, then Carter would be UW’s leading returning scorer next season.

Soon enough, he’ll get the expanded role that he’s wanted.

“I’m not really a patient guy,” Carter said. “I like to take on any challenge. I don’t think anybody can guard me. I’ve felt that way my whole life and being here is no different.

“I try to be the best at everything I do and if I’m not, I practice until I am.”

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