Way, way back in 2010, there was a time when Wildcat insiders thought both Nick Johnson and Jahii Carson would commit to Arizona, giving them the two highest rated in state players in quite awhile.
Of course, things didn't work out that way. Johnson committed to Arizona on August 18, 2010, while Carson committed to ASU about a week after. After an abortive season of Josiah Turner at point guard for Arizona, and a year of academic ineligibility for Carson at ASU, each player's recruitment seems like ancient history.
Both players and programs are far removed from where they were last year. The Wildcats have reclaimed their top 10 status, while the Sun Devils aren't the doormat everyone expects them to be. In fact, ASU has been pretty good this year, going 14-3 on the season and 3-1 in conference play.
A lot of the Sun Devils' success has been because of Carson, who averages 17.1 points and 5.2 assists, leading the team in each category. Moreover, Carson has been a floor leader that Herb Sendek simply hasn't had the luxury of recruiting to Tempe.
And at the same time, a lot of the Wildcats' success has been because of Johnson. To say nothing of his legendary game winning block against SDSU, Johnson has logged significant minutes over his first two seasons and is now an integral part of Arizona's identity on both sides of the ball.
As young, aspiring hoopers from the same area, Johnson and Carson know each other well (for a good laugh, watch this video of Johnson and Carson talking about the UA-ASU rivalry). You might even call them friends, or at least, they are friendly with a mutual respect for one another.
But don't be fooled by their laid back demeanor or the good natured ribbing between Johnson and Carson in the video above. When Arizona travels north to play ASU on Saturday, there will be no love in the building. Both teams are coming off losses at Oregon last week, and both teams know what's at stake as they each stand 3-1 in the conference rankings.
The Arizona-ASU rivalry has not always been a conference headliner, as the Wildcats have dominated the greater portion of history. But this year we get an extra twist: not only is there the Johnson vs Carson subplot, there's also the fact that ASU isn't the perennial bottom feeder they usually are.
We can't know where these teams will be by season's end, but for now they are both in the hunt for the Pac-12 crown, and this Saturday's duel in the desert will be about more than just bragging rights. The conference race is on the line.