SEATTLE — Nahziah Carter has a fish story you need to hear.
One day this summer, the University of Washington men’s basketball player and his buddy took a charter off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for an afternoon of sun, fun and deep-sea fishing on the Atlantic Ocean.
After a few hours, the group hauled in 40 or so fish. Mostly tuna, grouper and snapper, but nothing noteworthy. That was until Carter felt a strong tug at the end of his line.
He sensed this was different. Excitement and chatter on the boat grew as Carter tugged, pulled and held onto the fishing rod until his arms burned with fatigue.
Thirty minutes later, Carter reeled in a monster — a 150-pound Great Amberjack.
“Honestly, it was the best arm workout that I’ve ever done,” he said, laughing. “I worked hard for that one.”
And what happened to the fish?
“I’m getting it stuffed,” he said. “I’m going to put it on a wall somewhere.”
Carter keeps a picture in his phone as a reminder and shares the photo whenever anyone doubts his skills as an angler.
If you’re looking for a moral to this fish story, maybe it’s this: Don’t doubt Carter.
“I’ve never been fishing before,” the 20-year-old Rochester, N.Y., native said. “That was my first time, and I caught a big fish. … You could say it’s luck, and maybe it was, but when I put my mind to something good things tend to happen.”
These days, Carter is thinking a lot about keeping the Washington men’s basketball team on the upward trajectory that it’s been on since coach Mike Hopkins took over in 2017.
Most of the offseason chatter surrounding the Huskies has been about the players leaving — UW lost five of its top six scorers who represented 80% of its scoring last season — and the players arriving in a top-10 nationally ranked recruiting class.
It’s easy to draw comparisons between departed stars Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle, last season’s Pac-12 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, and incoming freshmen stars Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, who are projected lottery picks in next year’s NBA draft.
What goes unsaid is Carter just might be better than all of them.
“I really believe that he was doing what Matisse and Jaylen were doing last season, but he just didn’t have the minutes that Jaylen and Matisse had,” Hopkins said. “If you did a points-per-minute breakdown, he was probably very equivalent to those guys.”
Carter averaged 8.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 20.5 minutes in 36 games off the bench last season as a sophomore.
At times, the 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard thrived in a defined role in which he garnered a reputation as a high-flying acrobat who will dunk on anybody.
Just ask the Oregon State Beavers.
Last season, Carter scored a career-high-tying 18 points at Gill Coliseum, including three jaw-dropping dunks highlighted by a rim-rattling flush over 7-foot center Kylor Kelley that sent him crashing to the floor.
As a freshman, Carter set social media on fire when he posterized 6-8 California senior forward Cole Welle and flushed a putback jam over Utah’s Parker Van Dyke.
Carter’s 44-inch vertical leap allows him to perform dazzling feats above the rim, but last season he stole a page from Nowell and mastered a pull-up, mid-range jump shot, which makes him a nearly unguardable isolation player.
“My first year, you’re just so young, and I was running around not really knowing what I was doing,” said Carter, who ranked in the 89th percentile nationally in points per possession when in isolation last season. “The next year, I started to really work on my game. I added a mid-range (jumper) and started working on my defense.
“This (summer), I worked on my 3-point shot and really wanting to get that up. And I can still improve on defense.”
Carter shot 47.8% from the field last season, but he struggled behind the arc (31%) and at the free-throw line (63.7%).
During Washington’s four exhibitions in Italy this summer, Carter showcased an improved jumper while shooting 47.6% on 3-pointers. He also averaged 18.3 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 24.1 minutes.
Without McDaniels and sophomore point guard Quade Green, Carter and Stewart formed a dynamic 1-2 offensive punch during UW’s five exhibitions, which included a closed-door scrimmage last week at Texas Christian.
“Naz doesn’t have to change his game other than hitting open 3s,” Hopkins said. “We know how he can attack the basket, and he’s a great offensive rebounder. We just need that all the time.
“He’s going to get the minutes. He’s earned them, and he’s a heck of a player. I expect him to take that next step.”
So what does a next step look like?
Considering Washington lost 80% of its scoring from a team that won the Pac-12 regular-season title and finished 27-9 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, it’s reasonable to expect Carter can match or exceed Nowell’s production from last season when he averaged 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 34.4 minutes.
If so, it’s also reasonable to expect Carter will leave UW early for the NBA draft like Nowell, who was a second-round pick.
“That’s everybody’s goal,” Carter said. “Of course, it’s my goal.
“Honestly, it’s all in God’s plan. If it comes to a point where I have the opportunity to go, then of course I’m going to try to achieve my long, long dream. But we’ve got to win first. That’s how it starts.”