Harkless Comes Calling

STORRS, Conn. – Andre Drummond knows a thing or two about Moe Harkless.

"He's like Jeremy [Lamb]," Drummond said. "He plays effortlessly. He just scores."

That scouting report from Drummond is based on his days at St. Thomas More when he played against Harkless, who prepped at South Kent. Saturday at a soldout XL Center, the confrontation will be upgraded from prep school to the collegiate level.

Now Drummond wears a Connecticut uniform and Harkless plays for St. John's. They are two of the most talented freshmen in the nation. But if Drummond's assessment is valid, the Huskies are going to have their hands full trying to slow down Harkless, a freshman swingman from Queens, N.Y.

Lamb, a sophomore swingman, is UConn's leading scorer at 19.3 points a game. His scoring average is up from 11.1 points per game as a freshman and after his 23-point performance Wednesday night against South Florida, it is obvious he is a contender for player of the year honors in the Big East and nationally.

Put a player like that on the other side and the Huskies have an obvious concern. UConn knew that his value – but then Harkless made history on Tuesday night. In a 91-67 victory over Providence, Harkless scored 32 points to break the Big East record for a freshman making his conference debut. Harkless was 14 of 17 from the field, 2 of 3 from three-point range, had 13 rebounds, four assists, four steals, blocked two shots and turned the ball over only once.

Long time observers of the Big East were reasonably impressed. Allen Iverson of Georgetown and Troy Murphy of Notre Dame had shared the previous debut record of 30 points.

"There have been a lot of good players who have started in this league and not put up those numbers," UConn associate head coach George Blaney said.

On a team full of new faces, Harkless, at 6-8 and 208 pounds, has emerged as the top scorer for the Red Storm (7-5 overall, 1-0 Big East). He averages 15.7 points overall and has improved that to 17.5 in two games on the road. He is shooting 40.7 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line in enemy territory.

"I don't think there's anything he doesn't do," Blaney said of Harkless. "He's big. He can handle. He can shoot it. He can shoot it in or out. He can put it on the floor and he rebounds. Those rebounds [against Providence] show me big time stuff. Most importantly, he believes in himself. He's a very confident player. And I always like confident players."

And the UConn coaching staff has been impressed with Harkless for quite some time. Harkless actually committed to UConn but then changed his mind. He now is considered the Pied Piper recruited out of New York City for second-year coach Steve Lavin.

Harkless changed his mind in June 2010, telling several New York newspapers that he was opening up his recruitment again after the NCAA announced its findings in the Nate Miles investigation involving UConn a month earlier.

"I feel I should explore my options," he told the New York Daily News at that time. "Since everything has happened [at UConn], I want to make sure it's still the right choice."

Harkless comes to town at a time when UConn doesn't need any more reminders of the NCAA investigation or penalties. UConn coach Jim Calhoun is serving his second game of a three-game suspension handed down by the NCAA in that case. Calhoun will return to the Huskies Jan. 4, the morning after UConn's next game – at Seton Hall.

And the winner in the Harkless sweepstakes won't be in the XL Center tonight either. Lavin is missing his eighth consecutive game as he recovers from surgery for prostate cancer.

"It's a matter of adjusting the way we play defense and limiting those [big] buys' touches, attacking them on offense and trying to get them in foul trouble," Harkless said of the Huskies. "We were confident before the [Providence] game and a lot of people didn't expect us to come out and win like that. We can't get over-confident, we just have to stay humble and keep working for the next win."

It's only human nature for Harkless to be motivated against a team he once committed to and the Huskies will be determined to shut him down.

That might be more difficult if Roscoe Smith can't play. The sophomore swingman has a strained right wrist and didn't practice Thursday or Friday. UConn would really miss his defensive expertise against a player such as Harkless.

"Roscoe is day-to-day," Blaney said.

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