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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The words describing the play of Alex Caruso were spot on. Written by a national pundit who had recently observed Caruso play in person for the first time, the report seemed like a perfect portrayal.
"The engine behind a balanced team, Caruso is quick and has good size for a guard. He uses his athleticism and vision to create shots for his teammates. Caruso was a nice surprise...his play on the court exceeds expectations from just looking at his frame and watching warm-ups." (Hoopniks.com)
Surely, the author must have just witnessed Caruso, a battle-tested veteran who will soon lead No. 1-seed Texas A&M into the SEC Tournament, play an all-important game in front of a rowdy Reed Arena crowd.
Surprisingly, the above passage was penned when Caruso was a junior in high school, but the author's observations could easily describe the Aggie star's abilities as a 22-year-old senior.
In retrospect, Caruso may well have been one of the steals of the 2012 recruiting class.
A largely unheralded wing for A&M Consolidated High School in College Station, Caruso wasn't even the most coveted prospect in A&M's signing class. That distinction went to another hometown hero: Bryan's J-Mychal Reese. Reese was ranked by many as the No. 1 high school point guard in the country and a top-100 player nationally.
Most recruiting gurus considered Reese to be a lynchpin recruit who would play the Aggies into several NCAA Tournaments. Caruso, meanwhile, was looked at as more of a feel-good story: a solid player who was staying home to play for the school where his father, Mike, was a longtime associate athletic director.
Those so-called experts couldn't have been more wrong.
Reese transferred from A&M after playing in 39 games. Caruso, meanwhile, worked his way into the starting lineup as a freshman and never looked back. After starting 17 contests as a rookie, Caruso has missed just one start since his sophomore season.
Interestingly, it was a scenario his family had seen play out previously.
"What's really interesting is how much his college career mirrors what happened to him in high school," said Mike Caruso, now in his 27th year as an employee of the A&M athletic department. "When he was a (high school) freshman, his coach at the time called us and said they wanted to move him up to the varsity. I remember telling the coach that it might be more important to keep him on the JV team so he could get some playing time.
"Then the coach said 'I'm moving him up because I plan on playing him. He's not going to sit on the bench."
Caruso saw plenty of action as a raw freshman for A&M Consolidated, but the Tigers finished well below .500. The next two seasons were solid but not spectacular (22-11 in 2010 and 18-15 in 2011).
It was during his junior year that Caruso began to turn heads and explode on the national scene. The 6-foot-5 guard drew praise for his ability to facilitate an offense while disrupting the opposition with strong defense.
Caruso has used similar tactics to become one of the most decorated players in A&M history.
"It's interesting how it has worked out like that," said Caruso, now the A&M record holder in steals and assists. "It's special, and it's a testament to how hard I have worked, and how hard the guys around me have worked in both high school and college."
Caruso spent much of his first three years at A&M playing point guard for the Aggies, but the arrival of graduate transfer Anthony Collins took some pressure off of Caruso to be the team's quarterback.
Caruso is no longer A&M's starting point guard, but he may be the team's most important player. He has been spectacular in the last four contests--all wins--by dishing out 27 assists while having just three turnovers. When the Aggies lost five games between Jan. 27 and Feb. 13, Caruso had 17 turnovers and 23 assists.
Against Vanderbilt in the final game of the regular season, it was Caruso who salted the game away with a steal and a breakaway dunk to cement A&M's first conference title in 30 years. Caruso's emphatic slam started a celebration that ended with A&M players, coaches and staffers cutting down the nets to commemorate the moment.
"It was a little bit (of vindication)," Caruso said. "To do it the right way, by staying the course and sticking it out for four years, that's been big. To have any type of success in my last year has been special, but for it to be this much success to where we are winning a conference championship makes it even better."
As A&M prepares for postseason play and a certain berth in the NCAA Tournament, Caruso and the Aggies are soaking in every moment.
The Caruso family is, too, as evidenced by their emotional expressions during Senior Day following the Vanderbilt game. Caruso's two sisters are also Aggies, and along with their parents, have been able to watch many of Alex's games inside Reed Arena.
"My wife, Jackie, and I have been talking about this a lot," said Mike Caruso. "We are trying to live every moment because they will be gone before we know it. It's been a fun ride, but it isn't over. That's the good part. We have more ahead of us."
To those who support student-athletes by giving, I want to say thanks and gig 'em.
Without them, many young people who aren't financially stable or can't provide an education for themselves have a great opportunity. It makes A&M a better place."