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May 8, 2008

Griffin, Harden made rare decisions

Can you imagine having a winning lottery ticket and waiting a year to claim the multimillion-dollar prize?

Neither can I.

Blake Griffin and James Harden must have better imaginations than yours and mine. The Oklahoma power forward was a surefire lottery pick, perhaps even in the top five, had he entered the NBA Draft. The Arizona State guard almost assuredly would have been taken in the first round, too.

By now you know neither former Rivals.com five-star prospect entered the draft.

"I had a pretty good shot at going," Harden told Rivals.com on Wednesday. "But I don't want to settle for what I've done. I actually want to do something here at Arizona State. Next year we'll be even better. We'll be closer as a team and we want to win a couple of games in the NCAA Tournament."

Griffin, who averaged 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, gets to play another year with his older brother, Taylor, who will be a senior at OU this season.

"It (playing with Taylor) is really going to be a lot of fun," Griffin said. "I'm really looking forward to it. It was fun in high school and it's on a different level here. I'm really looking forward not just to playing with Taylor but playing with everyone we have coming back and our new guys coming in."

Those new guys coming in include Rivals.com five-star point guard Willie Warren and UCLA transfer Ryan Wright, a 6-foot-9 forward. Add them to the Griffin brothers, Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson and you've got the makings of a potential top-10 team.

"Our returning guys knew how hard they worked last summer," Sooners coach Jeff Capel said. "One of the things when I met with each guy individually, I thought that was the big reason why we got better this year and improved was because our returning guys got better. It is going to be the same for next year's team. Our returning guys have to get better, Blake and the other guys.

"It is important for Blake to be a leader, and it is something he wants to do. I think he has the potential to be a great leader, which will not only help him next year but beyond Oklahoma when he gets to that next level."

Harden, who averaged 17.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, admitted some friends told him he should take the money and run. But he says he has unfinished business, and he was animated when talking about the Sun Devils 2008-09 prospects.

"We're working out, working hard, we're ready to go," Harden said. "The goal has to be making the NCAA Tournament. We need to win a couple of games, try to win the whole thing. We want to turn this program around. We want to try to keep a legacy, make people want to go here."

Despite their monster freshman seasons, both players believe there are aspects of their game in which they need work.

"I am working on my shot and extending it out and being more comfortable with it and having a feel for it," Griffin said. "Also, becoming more of a leader and going hard every single drill and every single workout that I do. I need to make that a routine where it just becomes natural."

Harden, a left-hander, is a natural scorer who wants to look more the part of chiseled athlete.

"The first thing is being able to be in better condition. I want to go 40 or 50 minutes without getting tired," Harden said. "My mid-range game is another thing. I want to be able to pull up on a dime and not go to the basket all the time. And I'm working on my right hand. If I perfect those I can be better and help my team more."

If both players improve on last season, the Sooners and Sun Devils will be playing late in March - and both players will see their lottery winnings sometime around June 2009.


Former St. Louis coach Brad Soderberg told Rivals.com that he interviewed for the vacant head-coaching position at Florida Atlantic on Tuesday.

"I'm hoping for the best," said Soderberg, who will turn 46 on Saturday. "It sure looks like an easy place to recruit to. It's a beautiful campus."

Soderberg was 80-74 in five seasons with the Billikens. His best season in terms of winning percentage was actually was his last, when SLU went 20-13. He was fired on April 17, 2007, and 10 days later the school announced the hiring of Rick Majerus.

Soderberg had been an assistant or head coach at the collegiate level for 20-plus years before not catching on anywhere last season.

"I spent a lot of time watching my son play and trying to keep track of recruiting around the country in case I got a job somewhere," Soderberg said. "I was actually on Rivals.com a lot. I spent more time on the Internet than I did cumulatively in my career. I also went to a number of games and practices. And mainly I was watching my son finish up his senior year, which was nice to be able to do."

His son, Kramer, is a point guard who played at St. Charles West (Mo.) West High School and averaged 24.4 ppg last season. Brad Soderberg said Kramer has offers from Wisconsin-Green Bay, Miami University and La Salle, but the young man would wait to see if his father lands a job.

"I'm surprised he's not being recruited more heavily," Soderberg said. "I'm sure I'm biased, but I've also been a coach for 23 years and I think he's pretty good."

In addition to FAU, Soderberg said he had interviewed this offseason for the jobs at Toledo, Detroit Mercy and Oregon State.


Detroit Mercy announced Wednesday that former Indiana center Eli Holman has enrolled and will play for new Titans coach Ray McCallum, the former Hoosiers assistant who helped recruit him to Bloomington.

Holman, a former Rivals.com four-star prospect, will have four years of eligibility remaining. He was redshirted this past season after injuring his left wrist. He appeared in only six games and averaged one point and 1.7 rebounds.

IU campus police were called on May 1 when a disturbance occurred in the men's basketball office after Holman informed new Hoosiers coach Tom Crean that he wanted to transfer. The Indiana student newspaper said Crean was surprised by Holman's decision. It quoted the coach as saying, "The conversation was very cordial, but unfortunately, it just didn't end that way."

Holman was described as "loud and angry" by campus police. The youth was not arrested and no charges were filed, but Crean said in a statement: "His behavior took me, along with the other people in the office, by surprise. We saw him as a danger to himself and wanted to take precautionary measures to help him."

McCallum doesn't expect to have any problems with Holman.

"I'm really happy that Eli made the decision to come to UDM," McCallum said in a statement released by the school. "I think me having been at Indiana and recruiting him was a big reason why he went there and he had a great opportunity there. But when you're involved in a young man's life for two years, you obviously build a relationship that he cared about and respected and he wanted it to continue.

"With his size, he's an athletic player who can finish around the basket, he can block shots, he rebounds, he has good hands, he's a good runner. I think the next phase for him is to continue to grow as a player in our practices."

"Coach Mac is a big reason why I'm here," Holman said. "He recruited me out of high school, and he's been like a father figure to me. I think he'll make an impact on the University. He's going to put some more (championship) banners up in the arena and he's going to get us to the NCAA Tournament. I want to help him do that."

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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