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James Harden’s career comes full circle with banner raising at ASU

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TEMPE – When James Harden was in junior high school he left his mother, Monja Willis, a note. It said, “Mom can you leave me a few dollars? P.S. I’m going to be a star.”

“At that point I knew that’s what he was going to be,” Willis said.

That was more than a decade ago. So when Harden, the NBA All-Star and Sun Devil basketball legend, returned to Wells Fargo Arena Wednesday night to alternating chants of A-S-U and M-V-P to have his jersey No. 13 honored, his mother couldn’t have been surprised. But she and her son were still emotional.

“My mom got teary-eyed, she almost had me teary-eyed, almost had me crying,” Harden said. “That’s the thing when you’re a kid, you dream of. You look forward to being happy and caught in the moment, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Harden credits his mother as the biggest influence in his life. She would drive to see him play and there was no way she was not going to be by his side on his special night in front of a sea of gold cheering him on.

Harden is only 25 but it will be tough to find someone who wouldn’t agree he’s special. In 2009 his 704 points ranked fourth in single-season history for ASU. He became ASU’s third Pac-10 Player of the Year and was named a consensus First Team All-American, the first Sun Devil in history to do so.

Harden’s Sun Devils teams went 46-23 in his two years, including 5-0 against rival Arizona.

His success didn’t end in college. The Oklahoma City Thunder made Harden the third overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft. Across six seasons in the NBA with Oklahoma City and the Houston Rockets, Harden has been named an All-Star three times and is the current NBA scoring leader with 27.4 points per game.

Scott Pera was his high school coach at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California and was an assistant at ASU when Harden was there.

“To see that banner come down, I don’t know when it’s going to hit me, maybe on the plane tonight at 1 o’clock in the morning,” Pera said. “I’m just so proud of him and it’s an incredible honor.”

But even Pera couldn’t have foreseen the success Harden has had.

“You only dream about these things and I encouraged him to dream,” Pera said. “You got to have a combination of things happen. He had a growth spurt, he had an incredible work ethic, an incredible mother, they came to a school that really helped foster and develop him.

“I don’t know where it ends but it sure is fun.”

As far as individual accomplishments go, Harden did it all in college. As for the NBA, there is only one left,and if the ASU fans chanting MVP have their way, he might be inching closer.

“It would be for ASU,” Harden said. “That’s who I’m doing it for.”