Nov. 12, 2007
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - DeVon Hardin gave teammate Theo Robertson some Washington Wizards shorts because he's a big Gilbert Arenas fan. Eric Vierneisel also got shorts. For Jordan Wilkes, it was Lakers gear considering his father, Jamaal, played for Los Angeles.
Hardin will almost certainly have his own stuff by next year. He put off the pros to play one more college season at California, even though he might have been a first-round pick.
"It was a hard decision. In the end, it was being mature and really putting off instant gratification to do what's best for me in the long run," Hardin said. "I was getting a lot of different advice, like: 'Forget college. Go make money."'
He collected everything from headbands, socks and T-shirts during his summer workouts for the different franchises, and for a while he wore it all around campus. Coach Ben Braun finally said something - and they came up with the idea to share.
His teammates got a kick out of it, and that's when Braun realized just how committed Hardin is to his choice.
"I kind of realized that by me wearing that I was putting myself on a level where it could come off as, 'I'm bigger than Cal,"' Hardin said. "That's definitely not the message I wanted to send to my team. Actions speak louder than words. I repeatedly told these guys: 'I'm back. I'm here for y'all. Let's do this.' But I was walking around with shorts with the Sixers on them. Since then, I don't wear anything that doesn't say Cal."
The Golden Bears are thrilled to have Hardin back. He's not only their best player, but when teamed with Anderson, Cal will have one of the top front lines in a talent-filled Pac-10 Conference this season.
Hardin still has plenty to prove, too. Some NBA scouts were high on him before his injury-shortened junior season, and now Hardin is in the best shape of his career and ready to show he is healthy and prepared to take his game to the next level.
He told his teammates he would be there for them all year.
"It was cool he gave guys his stuff," Robertson said. "We had a meeting and he basically let us know that he's not thinking about the NBA. His time will come. It was a great thing for him to do."
The 6-foot-11, 250-pound Hardin played in only 11 games last season before sustaining a stress fracture in his left foot against Furman on Dec. 19. He has averaged 6.6 points and 6.0 rebounds during his career and is fifth on the Bears' career blocked shots list.
The Pac-10 had six teams in the preseason Top 25, though the Bears weren't on that list. But this is nearly the same Cal team that stunned then-No. 4 UCLA in overtime during the quarterfinals of the conference tournament last spring - and any Pac-10 coach will say this is the most competitive the league has been in years.
"We've kind of been overlooked but that's perfectly fine. That's how a lot of us prefer it," Hardin said.
Nowadays, Hardin regularly stops by Braun's office to find out what the coach might need help with during that day's practice. He makes sure Braun is doing OK and asks whether he would like to discuss anything - basketball or non-basketball. Hardin believes the little things he does off the court will only add to his effectiveness on it.
"He came back and showed his teammates that he was back at Cal," Braun said. "That was a great experience (all summer), but he wasn't going to get hung up there. One by one, I watched his teammates come in the office and I said, 'Where'd you get that shirt?' They'd say, 'DeVon gave it to me.' That's when I knew DeVon took a step, took a step to being a leader. ...
"I think he made the tougher of the decisions. The easy decision would have been going pro. He's looking at a first-round pick, guaranteed money, he doesn't have to play any more college basketball, he can just get in the league and learn on the way. DeVon seemed more driven."
During an early season practice last month, Hardin was one of the first players on the court, the white socks underneath his size-19 shoes pulled up to his knees. He drained back-to-back long 3-pointers, then dribbled between his legs and dunked with two hands.
"Ahhh!" he said with a grin.
No matter that the key was wide open with no defenders. Hardin's enthusiasm is infectious. His focus in the classroom also provides a positive example. He expects to be about 10 credits shy of a degree in social welfare come next year's NBA draft, and plans to finish up by taking online courses.
But first things first.
"He's going to be one of the best centers in the country," Anderson said.