In Your Face: James Harden

The current issue of SLAM features a piece on James Harden, the second-best NBA prospect of all the kids who chose to stay in school (Blake Griffin’s got him beat, but we don’t think anyone else does). In any event, ASU grad and up-and-coming sports writer Taylor Price did the story, and Jeff Newton took the photo, and they—along with James—deserved some shine. Here it is:

NBA Draft experts say he’s a first-round pick…but that doesn’t mean he’s out the door. James Harden has bigger plans for Arizona State before he goes to the League. “I don’t want to be one of those guys who was one year and done,” says the Sun Devils’ talented southpaw swingman. The youngest player in the Pac-10 last season is coming back to improve his right hand and mid-range game. But more importantly, he wants to help turn ASU into a perennial power.

In just one season, Harden nearly achieved his goal. The Sun Devils won 21 games, including two wins over rival Arizona, but were left out of the NCAA Tournament. Unlike the selection committee, opposing teams had trouble denying the multi-talented guard, who prefers getting his teammates involved over taking forced shots. “I can do more things than score,” Harden says. “I pick my poison. If we need a bucket I’ll take it.”

The first-team All-Pac-10 performer averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and a conference-leading 2.1 steals per game, demonstrating just how dangerous he can be. In fact, Harden is a sniper on and off the court, shooting 41 percent from three-point range and taking down teammates in fiercely competitive Halo sessions on Xbox.

Harden’s style of play has largely been influenced by another lethal basketball assassin. Growing up in L.A., Harden always looked up to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. And after Harden won two state titles at Artesia High School in nearby Lakewood, he could have been a hometown hero in a Bruin or Trojan uniform. But when his mother moved out to Phoenix, living closer to his biggest supporter while creating his own legacy became more appealing.

With Harden back next season, ASU will be sure to tap into all of his talents. “I’m a very good dancer,” adds Harden. “I can really dance for a 6-5 guy.”

Sure sounds like he’ll be ready come Tournament time.