Productive homecoming for Harden

Reigning Pac-10 player of the year and ex-Sun Devil James Harden spent part of Wednesday afternoon watching his former teammates wrap up non-conference play with a win, before he helped the Oklahoma City Thunder edge the Phoenix Suns later that night. Devils Digest caught up with the guard, as well as his head coach Scott Brooks to discuss Harden's rookie year in the NBA.

"It was good to go out there, get the support and see how the guys develop," said James Harden in regards to attending Arizona State's game. "It was a great feeling. They have a pretty good record now and the games they lost they had a pretty good chance of winning."

The guard quipped that despite his absence it was "the same Coach Sendek offense" and applauded his good friend Derek Glasser for being a more aggressive playmaker this season.

Overall, Harden isn't surprised by the Sun Devils' current 10-3 record and commented that "As long as they play good defense and stick to that they'll do pretty well."

Prior to the game against the Phoenix Suns, it seemed like the only headache Harden had was to trim the number of ticket request for this contest to 12. Overall he seemed relaxed before the game and stated that "This is my second home if I'm not in L.A. A lot of fans here care about me and support me. I'm definitely excited to be back here playing against the Suns. The support I have here is tremendous."

Harden admitted that he's feeling more comfortable with each game he plays, and in his last five outings he has been the most consistent he has been thus far in his rookie year, as he is averaging 14.2 points a game during that stretch. An NBA's player lifestyle requires being many days on the road and does require some adjustments which Harden has gotten used to.

"Make sure you rest, eat proper," he said. "As the games go by and we travel more it's easier I'm getting adjusted to it and my teammates are doing a good job of helping me as well."

For the first time in years he's not a starter on his team, but takes in stride his role as a contributor off the bench. Against the Suns he played 27 plus minutes and was on the floor for the entire fourth quarter.

"It's fine," Harden said in regards to coming off the bench. "I just go out there and play basketball and am not worrying about that. The starters are doing great and I'm just trying to produce. I'm just having the defensive mindset and the offense will come."

The physical change in Harden's body is hard not to notice, as he became more muscular especially in his upper half of his body. "Our strength and conditioning program – I feel it is tops in the league," said Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks. "James' body – it's chiseled. It helps when you're well conditioned and nothing is loose on your body you play better. He's starting to understand that."

Harden claimed that "classes…parties" in college naturally don't allow you to concentrate as much on the game as you do as a professional. Consequently, he has taken advantage of his new lifestyle to better himself.

"I know I had to do things intact in order for me to be successful at this level," Harden explained. "So far I'm doing a pretty good job of that. Eat right, no more junk food. Get your proper rest. You play so many games and practice so much you're going to definitely need that.

"This is a business and this is my job now. I have to be focused."

"College you have so many different things you worry about," Brooks stated. "With us it's just basketball and we take it seriously. We take the whole athlete. We not just worried about James making jump shots, we are worried about him getting quicker, stronger.

"We like what he brings to our team. He brings toughness. There was a knock that he wasn't athletic but he is as athletic as anybody in the league at that spot. He plays with a very calming sense about himself and I'm very excited what he's going to bring to our team each month because he's going to get better. He's shown the ability that he wants to get better every day."

Throughout his time in Tempe, Harden repeatedly shown the tendency not to be selfish and involve his teammates. That trait followed him to the next level much to the delight of Brooks.

"You can never have enough unselfish playmakers on the floor," said the Thunder head coach. "The thing I like about him that he's unselfish and he can do a lot of things scoring wise. He's one of our better scorers. Some guys are unselfish because they can't be selfish. James can make plays for himself but he's unselfish and we like that. I feel very comfortable with him with the ball."

"That's my game, that's how I play," Harden said. "I'm a pass first type of guy. I just create a shot for my teammates and hopefully they'll knock it down."

Against the Suns, Harden scored 14 points as the Thunder prevailed 117-113. The majority of his scoring came from drives that culminated in free throw opportunities (the guard was 7-7 from the charity stripe) and layups.

"These last few games I've been trying to be aggressive," Harden acknowledged, "figuring different ways to get to the basket, figuring ways to play in this league."

"I thought James was good," Coach Brooks stated following the game. "He played good basketball last night in L.A. and I thought he was solid tonight. He made the big play and James is a piece that we are very happy to have. I like his offensive game. He can drive, he can pull up a shot and he can hit the three. He has a pretty good package and he will only get better.

"I think he's understanding the pro game every day. He wants to get better and I like that about him. He knows he doesn't have all the answers. He's very coachable. He's understanding that there are some good players in this league, especially the spot that he is playing at the 2. He knows the players' tendencies much better as the season goes along. He's a smart player and understands the game very well for a kid that is only 20 years old."

Harden naturally was on cloud nine at the end of this busy day.

"It was fun playing in front of a lot of family, lots of friends it was a great feeling especially coming out with the win," he said. "This week has been great. Being in L.A. for three days and then coming here and watching my old team play. Staying out with family and friends in both cities, it was a great week."

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