Abram Carrasco’s basketball fate slipped out of his playmaking hands for the first time since childhood.
The JC All-American from Tucson was a point guard without a team this fall even as school was starting all over the country.
“I was like, ‘Dang, what am I supposed to do now?’” Carrasco said after learning that he didn’t have enough units to transfer to Irvine’s Concordia College, the NCAA Division 2 school that had recruited him.
He wound up leaving the next move to someone bigger than himself.
“I put it all in God’s hands,” Carrasco said.
That’s when Justin Bessard’s providential fingers texted a request to his old teammate from Pima Community College:
“Join me at Westmont.”
The rest has been heavenly history for the Warriors, who are 17-1 and ranked No. 4 in the NAIA.
“He was a Godsend,” Westmont coach John Moore said.
The Cinderella Warriors, who return no starters from last season, will take a Golden State Athletic Conference record of 6-0 into Murchison Gym on Saturday for their 7:30 p.m. showdown against No. 7 The Masters. The 5:30 p.m. preliminary game will also be a titanic, with No. 1 Masters visiting the No. 4 Warrior women.
“What a find, and what an exceptional surprise,” said Moore, who hadn’t heard of Carrasco until a few days before the fall semester. “He really has been a surprise.
“The team has been a surprise – I’ve said that many times – and I think he is a big component of that surprise. He’s quick, he’s a scorer, he’s a great passer, he’s a very good defender. He plays all parts of the game and thinks it even a whole lot better.”
Carrasco ranks fifth in the GSAC in both scoring (16.7 points per game) and assists (4.4). He’s shooting 48.7% overall and 34.5% from three-point distance.
And he’s heating up at the right time, having received his second-straight GSAC Player of the Week Award on Tuesday. He recorded a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds at Menlo and added a 20-point game at William Jessup to complete last week’s road sweep through Northern California.
“I just feel more comfortable now,” Carrasco said. “It comes from knowing the offense better, and just from the confidence the coaching staff and all my teammates have showed in me.”
He arrived at Westmont with impressive credentials. He set a career scoring record at Tucson’s Cholla High School to earn a place on its Wall of Fame. He led the Chargers to a 25-2 record and a No. 2 state ranking during his senior year while averaging 22.7 points.
Carrasco set another career scoring record at Pima CC with 1,310 points in two seasons. The Aztecs advanced to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division II final during his freshman season. They were back in the Elite Eight the following year when he averaged 19.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists. He shot 50% overall and 40% from three.
His father, George Carrasco, had been a soccer star, but Abram had known from an early age that basketball was his game.
“An elementary school monitor named Roy Robinson saw me play and said I should try out for his youth basketball team,” he said. “At the end of the practice, he picked the team and named me as one of the captains He told me, ‘I see something special in you.’
“He was real big in my life … That’s where my confidence came from.”
Masai Dean, his coach at Cholla High, became his next mentor. They actually connected during the handshake line of an AAU game when Carrasco was in eighth grade.
“We had lost to his team on a buzzer-beater, and he could see how super-hurt I was,” he said. “He pulled me aside and went, ‘I really like how much you love this game.’
“After my junior year, coach Masai sat me down and told me, ‘You’re going to go places if you keep all the distractions aside.’ Talks like that made me want to become the best I could be. I wanted to make my mom proud, and my family proud, and everyone proud.
“My senior year, he told me that I was going to become something special.”
But the wiry, 5-foot-11 guard received only one look from an NCAA Division 1 school — and it was only to become a backup.
“That was the one thing that really bugged me,” Carrasco said. “I’ve played against D1 players and felt like I held my own. I showed that I was able to play at their level.
“I don’t know what it was, but I do know that every level has good basketball players. This level has shown me that it has a lot of good players.”
Four other Warriors average double-figure scoring. Bessard is one of them, scoring at a 15.2-point clip while averaging 6.3 rebounds for a team that’s been out-scoring its opposition by more than 13 points a game.
“The two of them have a nice chemistry with each other,” Moore said. “We wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as we are today without them.
“Normally when I have this many new players, I have to dumb down the Princeton stuff. But we’ve actually expanded it this year, and they’re a big part of that.”
Bessard played one season with Carrasco during Pima’s 2018 run to the NJCAA final.
“Our team at Pima was like a family, just like this one,” Carrasco said. “I feel that’s why we’ve been so good this season, because everyone is so easy to play with.
“That’s how great teams are made.”
Carrasco signed with Concordia last May. He learned during the summer, however, that he’d have to earn nine more units during the fall semester before he’d be eligible to play for the Eagles. His coaches at Pima advised him to reopen his recruiting and find an NAIA school where he could play right away.
“They wanted me to go somewhere that I could make an immediate impact, knowing the type of player I was,” he said. “Once Concordia fell though, I told my coach, ‘I still want to end up in California.’
“Westmont is like Concordia – it’s a Christian school, too. My mom (Silvia Olmos) and dad are really strong believers, so they wanted me here, too.”
Bessard, who transferred to Westmont this year after one season at Nebraska’s Bellevue University, learned of Carrasco’s availability during an internet group chat with former Pima players.
“Justin was like, ‘Hey, we’re at Westmont, and it’s a really good school,’” Carrasco said. “I’d never even heard about the place. I looked it up and was like, ‘Oh, Santa Barbara is beautiful! The campus is beautiful! I fell in love with the place at first sight.
“I said, ‘Yeah, if you could reach out to the coaches,’ and he said, ‘They’ve already been asking about you.’”
Carrasco was soon on the phone with Jeff Azain, Westmont’s assistant basketball coach.
“They were so welcoming, both he and coach Moore,” he said. “It felt like an instant connection. I just knew that it would be so easy to play with them, just with how they carry themselves as people.”
He admits that he was challenged mightily by both the Warriors’ tricky Princeton offense and the school’s difficult curriculum. In both cases, however, he got the help he needed.
“I understand the offense a lot more now, thanks to the coaches,” Carrasco said. “They’ve been really good about that.
“I’d also never been to a school this hard, but the teachers really care. If you feel like you don’t understand something, they try to help you.
“You have to put in the effort, for sure, but it’s all for the better. I’m happy they care because it makes me feel like I have a purpose here … A reason to be here.”
He’s not shy about his purpose this season: to win an NAIA ring.
“I’m chasing a championship,” the junior guard said. “I feel that I’ve been falling just short of that at every level.”
Cholla High was upset in the state tournament during Carrasco’s senior year, and Pima came within one win of a national title.
“It just feels right here,” he said. “This group of guys, they’re all great players, and great teammates. They’re really selfless, for sure.
“JB is the only senior, but we’re talking about getting a ring for him this year. He’s playing big for us.
“I tell him, ‘We lost one in Juco, we’ve got to get you one right now.’ That would be really nice, sending him home with a championship ring.”
It’s all back in their hands now.
Mark Patton’s column appears on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org