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Sun Devils on the cover of Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preview issue

November 11, 2008

Sports Illustrated has ranked the women's hoops team 15th and the men 16th in its College Basketball Preview issue, on stands Wed., November 12. The magazine contains 42 pages of hoops coverage and features standout men's and women's players on six regional covers, which appear with the billing, DOUBLE TEAM, and showcase Briann January and James Harden of Arizona State University, Rashanda McCants and Tyler Hansbrough of North Carolina, Ashley Barlow and Kyle McAlarney of Notre Dame, Courtney Paris and Blake Griffin of Oklahoma, Shavonte Zellous and DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh and Maya Moore and Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut.

Additional highlights of the preview include scouting reports for the top 20 men's teams, complete with a five-minute guide that includes players to watch and preseason All-America teams as well as a projected field of 65 for the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

Here is what Sports Illustated writer Grant Wahl had to say about the No. 16 Sun Devils:

Sports Illustrated College Basketball Preseason Issue, Nov. 12, 2008

The Pac-10 won't be the nation's best conference this season, the way it was a year ago. Such is life without O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez and Jerryd Bayless, part of the Pac-10 record haul of seven players who were taken in the first round of the NBA draft. But one of the few league teams that will be improved from 2007-08 is Arizona State, thanks in large part to the return of sophomore guard James Harden.

What turned heads during Harden's freshman season wasn't just his production (17.8points per game, a league-leading 73steals, a first-team all-conference spot) but also that it came from the youngest player in the Pac-10. "James is actually young [for his class]," Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek says of Harden, who turned 19 in August. "At that age a year can be a significant difference-maker."

Indeed, Harden says he sprouted an inch in the past year, to 6'5", and he spent the summer working on his on-the-ball defense and mid-range game. "I wanted to be comfortable shooting [mid-range] jumpers instead of always attacking the rim or shooting three-pointers," he says. "That meant lots of one-dribble pull-ups and catching-and-shooting in the key, in the mid-range and on the blocks." Not that Harden devoted his entire off-season to individual work. The L.A. native also ran in a summer game with Lakers star Kobe Bryant and played (to positive reviews from NBA scouts) at the LeBron James and Paul Pierce skills camps.

Sendek has always been known as one of the nation's brainiest coaches--he graduated summa cum laude from Carnegie-Mellon--and he's eager to cultivate Harden's elevated hoops IQ. "One thing I've tried to do with James is have a dialogue with him," Sendek explains. "I'm curious to find out what he likes, what he doesn't like, where he's comfortable and what we can take advantage of, not just in our planning but even as the game is going on."

With Harden and 6'9" senior forward Jeff Pendergraph, a third-team all-conference selection, the Sun Devils have the firepower to contend for a title in the weakened Pac-10 and earn the NCAA tournament berth that was denied them last year, after a bitter loss to USC (which included a dodgy last-minute foul call) in the league tournament. That was one of the reasons behind Harden's decision to pass up the NBA draft and return to Tempe. "I needed to work on several things before I was ready to make that move," says Harden. "I was still young and didn't just want to be a one-and-done guy. I want to get to the tournament and make a run there."--Grant Wahl