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Thunder's James Harden is proud of his defense

By Mike Baldwin Modified: April 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm •  Published: February 12, 2010

"He’s really been focused. He’s playing in the rookie game this year, but I know in a few years he’d like to play in the Sunday game.

"I don’t think he knows how good he can be. He’ll certainly put in the work.”

One underlying question is whether Harden will hit the proverbial rookie wall. One of only three rookies to average 20 minutes on a winning team — along with Ty Lawson (Denver) and Wes Matthews (Utah) — Harden said teammates have advised him to eat and sleep well.

"It’s a grind, but it’s fun,” Harden said. "It’s fun to play basketball and compete, especially with the teammates that I have. We get along very well and hang out all the time.”

After leading Artesia in Los Angeles to back-to-back state high school titles, the McDonald’s All-American signed with an ASU program that finished 2-16 in the Pac 10 the previous season.

Harden’s impact was so immediate the Sun Devils were ranked in the AP preseason poll for the first time in 17 years before his sophomore year. After helping end an NCAA Tournament drought, Harden became the first ASU player since Byron Scott 26 years earlier to be selected in the top five in the draft.

This season he’s playing a key role off the bench on a young team on track to end the organization’s five-year playoff drought.

"The bottom line for him is he just wants to win,” Pera said. "He’s used to winning. He gets frustrated after losses, wondering what he could have done more to help them win. The fact those guys are winning means a lot to him.”

As for the beard, Pera said the first time he saw Harden with his face covered by black whiskers was his freshman season at ASU.

"He couldn’t grow one when he played for me in high school,” Pera said. "At ASU he grew it out a couple of times. All the guys used to think it was funny.”

No one laughs at his basketball acumen. This weekend Harden will be hanging out with the world’s top basketball players.

"It’s such a great honor,” Harden said. "It’s a great accomplishment not just from my abilities to play basketball but we’re winning. There are so many other great players in (Dallas). It’s going to be a lot of fun.”


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