At this time last year Alek Carlson was preparing for the annual Frank Godinez Basketball Tournament with his Turlock High teammates. The then senior was the anchor of a Bulldog squad that had won the Central California Conference title a year prior and was the unquestioned leader on and off the court.
This year Carlson is still on the court but in a much different role. After leading his team to a 10-5 CCC season and a Division I SJS playoff berth and graduating from Turlock, the onetime leader of the Bulldogs now finds himself in an understudy role, playing for California State University, Stanislaus as a true freshman.
“There were some schools that were interested but I wanted to go to Stanislaus and stay close to home,” Carlson said.
Upon graduation, the 6-foot-6 Turlocker was scouted by William Jessup University, CSU Maritime, and UC Merced but the lure of playing basketball in his hometown was enough to dismiss their interest. On Nov. 14 Carlson’s decision to become a Warrior was validated when Stanislaus whipped Merced 105-57. Carlson got 21 minutes of play in his first collegiate game and put up 11 points in the winning effort as a group of family and friends and his former coach Doug Cornfoot watched from the bleachers.
“It’s a lot faster,” Carlson said of his first collegiate experience. “Everyone’s better so there’s better competition. It’s fun.”
But Carlson almost didn’t get the chance to contribute in 2012. The young Warrior nearly followed a familiar path in college athletics, sitting out his first year with a redshirt in hand. The decision was up to Stanislaus head coach Larry Reynolds; all Carlson could do was show his new coach why he deserved to be on the court. Hard practices and steady commitment during the summer opened Reynolds’ eyes to Carlson’s ability and potential.
“He was going to red shirt me if he felt like it would be a waste of a year and I wouldn’t be getting substantial minutes,” Carlson said. “He decided that me and the other freshman, Taylor Thompson, were progressing and physically developed enough to play.”
“That was the question for me, how physically developed I’d be,” Carlson added.
Though Carlson has the physical attributes needed to play at the next level, he must still develop his mental and strategic approaches to the game. The support of his older and more seasoned teammates will be crucial in Carlson’s improvement on the court and future at Stanislaus. As it stands, Carlson’s defensive prowess is his primary project.
“I’ve been trying to improve on defense because I know it’s one of my weak points,” Carlson said. “I could get away with lazy defense in high school but now everyone’s faster and stronger so I have to work hard on defense.”
“All the veterans are great. They get on me and Taylor and show us what we’re doing wrong; they’re really helpful with everything,” Carlson said.
Carlson still has many things to learn at Stanislaus and he has more than enough time to do so with only two games in the books of the 2012 season. Still, having played in only one game, Carlson has already learned some valuable lessons about what it takes to play on a college basketball team; there’s more to it than speed, strength, and natural ability.
“A big factor for our team is communication,” Carlson said. “Talking on the court is something I’ve learned is really, really important. I always knew it was important in high school but it’s even more so in college because you have to know where everyone is at and what they’re doing.”
Carlson and the Warriors are currently preparing for their next game against Humboldt State on Nov. 30. Whether or not he will play is unknown.
“Whatever minutes I get I’ll be happy with. I just want to make a contribution and help the team,” Carlson said. “Sitting on the bench and not playing that much is all right when your team is good, it’s still fun.”