Now playing in the Purple Palace: Big Game James

James Harden was one of the most special players in ASU history. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

James Harden was one of the most special players in ASU history. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)

Editor’s Note: I apologize for running a story on a recent local former college star not named Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless or Jordan Hill. I suppose there’s a reason this blog isn’t called ValleyoftheWildcats.

This Wednesday marks the Purple Palace debut of 2008-2009 Arizona State University consensus First-Team All-American James Harden.

Harden was the third overall pick in last season’s draft and played a monumental role in revitalizing ASU basketball over the last couple of years, leading the Sun Devils to their first NCAA appearance since 2003 last season.

That is not to say that Sun Devil basketball is without tradition.

There have been some great players to come out of the Arizona State program including Byron Scott who won three rings with the ’80s Showtime Lakers and Lafayette “Fat” Lever, currently the director of player development for the Sacramento Kings.

Lever, in fact, is one of a handful of NBA players to nearly average a triple-double over the course of an entire season, with 19.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists in the 1988-89 season for the Denver Nuggets.

More recently, Ike Diogu, like Harden, was the Pac-10  Player of the Year as well as the 9th overall pick in the 2005 draft and Eddie House, ASU’s all-time scoring leader was in integral part of Boston’s 2007-2008 championship team.

However, none of them appeared on the cover of the illustrious Sports Illustrated college basketball issue or were consensus First-Team All-Americans like James Harden.

Like most rookies not named LeBron, Bird, or Magic, Harden has had his troubles adjusting to the NBA game, shooting below 40 percent from the field and averaging just under 10 points a game.

Recently, however, on Dec. 7, Harden had what could prove to be his breakout game, a 26-point, nine-rebound, five-assist and two-steal barrage against Golden State en route to a 104-88 victory.

Unfortunately for Harden, the inconsistency continued the next two games, when he shot a combined 3-for-14 in outings against Memphis and Cleveland, respectively.

These growing pains are to be expected however from a kid who his freshman season was the youngest player on any roster in the Pac-10.

Even with Harden’s struggles, Oklahoma City is probably the surprise of this season, posting a 13-14 record after going a paltry 23-59 just one season ago largely due to other young talents Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and of course second-year player Kevin Durant. who is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA at 27.3 a game.

Nonetheless, no matter how Harden performs against the Suns or the rest of his NBA career, his contribution to Sun Devil basketball will not be forgotten, and he will have a rousing ovation deservedly waiting for him Wednesday night courtesy of Planet Orange.

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