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July 10, 2008

Arizona State's Harden keeping himself busy

The James Harden "Look Who's Still in College" Summer Tour stopped at the Nike LeBron James Skills Academy in Akron, Ohio, this week.

Harden, a star guard at Arizona State, also was one of the select college players invited to the Nike Paul Pierce Skills Academy in Los Angeles from June 20-22. It was a position-specific camp for wing players.

It has been a busy summer for Harden, a high-scoring 6-foot-4 left-hander who most basketball fans believed would enter the NBA Draft after a freshman season in which he averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists.

He considered it strongly, and admits friends were in his ear telling him he'd be foolish not to. But he has other plans, like ensuring the Sun Devils not only make the NCAA Tournament next season but do some damage once there.

"I have something I want to do here at Arizona State," Harden told Rivals.com. "Next year we'll be even better."

A better Harden is a scary thought for Pac-10 opponents. He dropped at least 20 points on every one of them except UCLA. He averaged 22 points in three games against USC. He had a season-high 27 against California.

At the Pierce camp, he went up against such players as Davidson's Stephen Curry, Georgetown's Austin Freeman and incoming freshmen Demar DeRozan of USC and Tyreke Evans of Memphis.

"It went well there," Harden said. "It was a shock for me to work out with those guys. I just tried to play hard and work hard."

Harden was awestruck at meeting Pierce, the NBA Finals MVP from the Boston Celtics, even though Harden is a Lakers fan.

"We met him the last day, and he talked to us for a little bit," Harden said. "He said, 'Stay focused on your dreams, but be humble about it.'

"It was really cool. It was a blessing to see him on TV and the things he did against my favorite team, then to see him in front of my face and sharing his knowledge. He played a heck of a series."

Of the players at the camp, Harden said he came away the most impressed with Curry. He also cited California's Patrick Christopher as a player on the rise. He said he's keeping in touch with most of the players he met at the Pierce Camp, especially Evans and DeRozan.

With the LeBron camp finished, Harden said he'll be working out and fine-tuning his game. "I'm working on being able to finish with my right hand and being able to go 40 minutes," said Harden, who averaged 34.1 minutes last season. "If I have to get tired, I'm working on breaking through and being able to just keep pushing."

TRIVIA QUESTION

James Harden came up just two points shy of Arizona State's freshman scoring record. Who holds it? (Answer at the end of the column.)

UNLV GOES 4-2 DOWN UNDER

UNLV sandwiched four consecutive wins between two losses on its recent trip to Australia. The Runnin' Rebels lost the opener 72-64 to the Sutherland Sharks fair to say they were jetlagged and dropped the finale 86-84 to the Cairns Marlins, the team coach Lon Kruger believed was the best they faced on the trip. They had an open look from 3-point range in the final seconds against the Marlins but missed.

Rising senior guard Wink Adams led the team in scoring, averaging 15.5 points. Memphis transfer Tre'Von Willis provided a big lift, averaging 15.2 points and leading the team in assists.

The big surprise was guard Mareceo Rutledge, a minor contributor this past season (3.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg) after transferring from Yuba Junior College in California. Rutledge averaged 13.3 points and 6.5 rebounds, knocked down 10 3-pointers and led the team in free-throw shooting (18 of 21, for 85.7 percent).

UNLV will try to temper expectations for former five-star center Beas Hamga, a 7-foot redshirt freshman who was the Rebels' leading rebounder (7.5) on the trip. He struggled offensively (4.5 ppg, 10 of 31 shooting), and one reason may have been the wider international lane - which kept Hamga from setting up as close to the basket as he would have liked.

Hamga won't be required to score much in his first season anyway. The Rebels will remain perimeter-oriented: They attempted 33 3-pointers per game in Australia and shot 34.8 percent. Keep in mind that was from the international line of 20 feet 6, which is 3 inches shorter than the new college line. Willis led the team in percentage from distance, hitting 40.6 percent (13 of 32).

TIP-INS

Every player and coach who has seen him this summer has told me he has been impressed with Davidson's Curry. He is making the transition from shooting guard to point guard, but he always has had a good handle, and the college game is trending toward point men who can score. Curry could become the first player to finish in the top 10 in scoring and assists since Northeastern's Jose Juan Barea finished eighth in scoring (22.2 ppg) and fifth in assists (7.3) as a junior in 2004-05.

Memphis' Evans suffered an ankle injury at the Pierce camp that kept him out of taking part fully at the LeBron event.

Doneal Mack could end up a teammate of Evans with the Tigers after all. Mack, whose transfer from Memphis to New Orleans last week was first reported by Rivals.com, apparently is mulling an about-face. Even though he's in summer school at UNO, he can return to Memphis and be eligible to play under NCAA rules because he hasn't participated in organized basketball activities with the Privateers for a "14-day consecutive period." His father, Greg Mack, said playing time was the chief issue at Memphis. Mack averaged 12.5 minutes and 6.9 points per game last season. He led the Tigers in 3-pointers with 66.

While we all can agree you can't put too much stock in summer basketball leagues, there are some encouraging signs for fans of Tennessee and West Virginia. In the Rocky Top League in Knoxville, Vols forward Tyler Smith led his HT Group team to the league title with a record of 7-0. Defense is hardly at a premium, but Smith averaged 30.6 points. East Tennessee State's Courtney Pigram, who, like Smith, considered entering the NBA Draft, averaged 31.8 points for HT Group. The unexpected surprise was the league's leading scorer, Vols redshirt wing Cameron Tatum (34.3 ppg). The former four-star prospect showed not only good range, but a solid ability to attack the basket. In the Pittsburgh Pro-Am League that features players from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Duquesne and Robert Morris, Mountaineers incoming freshman Kevin Jones made a huge splash in his debut. Playing Monday night against a team that features Panthers stars Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, the former Rivals.com four-star power forward had 44 points, 20 rebounds and shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has been appointed chairman of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee for the 2009-10 academic year. His term begins Sept. 1, 2009. He will replace SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Ike Diogu scored 607 points during his freshman season in 2002-03. Harden scored 605.

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.



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