James Harden and the Houston Rockets are set to play the reigning NBA champion Golden Warriors in the Western Conference Finals starting on Monday.
Harden, an Arizona State alum, averaged a career-high 30.4 points per game this season to go along with 8.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds a night.
As the NBA playoffs near their pinnacle, AZCentral.com’s Doug Haller has an in-depth look at how the MVP candidate ended up playing for the Sun Devils.
How did James Harden end up at Arizona State? Hiring his HS coach went a long way. Even so, there was a threat in the Pac-10. https://t.co/VIBjkeRAsH
— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) May 12, 2018
As it turns out, Harden followed his high school coach to Tempe.
While he played at Artesia High in Los Angeles, future NBA All-Star James Harden made coach Scott Pera a promise: He told him that if he ever landed a big-time college job, he would follow him to that school.
At it turned out, that place was Arizona State.
On June 1, 2006, coach Herb Sendek — just a few months after taking the job in Tempe — hired Pera as basketball operations director.
Pera, who is now the coach at Rice, said he knew Harden would follow him to Arizona State.
“I know James said [he would follow], but I wasn’t going to hold a gun to his head,” Pera said. “He was 16 when he said it, so all I said to James was, ‘Look, let me go get to know Coach, get to know ASU and see if this is a place where you can really explode.'”
UCLA and Washington were also heavily interested in obtaining Harden’s services.
Former UCLA coach Ben Howland still kicks himself for not landing him.
“That’s one of the big disappointments of my career, not doing a better job recruiting him,” said Howland.
The Rockets and Warriors tip off on Monday at 6 p.m. PT. The game will be televised on TNT.