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October 29, 2008

Mailbag: How long will Harden stick around?

Got a question? Click here to send it to Skwara's Mailbag

Of Rivals.com's top 13 prospects from the 2007 class, only two remain in college: Arizona State swingman James Harden (ranked No. 11) and Duke forward Kyle Singler (No. 5).

Their decisions to stick around weren't due to disappointing freshman campaigns. Harden was voted first-team All-Pac 10 and Singler was the ACC's Rookie of the Year last season. Both should be even better with a full year of experience under their belts.

So, should we expect Harden and Singler to make the leap to the pros after the 2008-09 season? Will these two continue to break the trend of the top college players leaving whenever possible?

We explore these and other questions in this week's mailbag.

Time to go?

Tyler from Las Vegas : Do you see James Harden leaving Arizona State after this year to go pro? The kid is an elite player that nobody has talked much about, mainly because Arizona State's basketball program has been quiet. Also, what about Duke star Kyle Singler? Singler is a great player. I think he will stay one more year just because of his size. He is not NBA-ready yet.

I wouldn't be shocked if both stayed for another year.

I'm less sure about Harden. He has the physical tools to be a lottery pick, and the Sun Devils could be headed for a big season - which will put him in the limelight. However, most players would have left last season after having the kind of year Harden did (17.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.2 apg). In the middle of last season, at a time when most one-and-dones were dodging NBA questions, Harden said he was staying for his sophomore year - and then stuck to his word. I think that shows he's wired differently than your typical future pro.

Singler faces different issues. Unlike Harden, he's not playing on a team that's built around him. He'll probably have to play out of position again for the undersized Blue Devils, which means playing most of his minutes on the inside. That certainly won't help his stock. He needs to be on the perimeter, where he can showcase his shooting range and skill set to really impress scouts and lock up a spot in the first round.

Question of youth

Don from Sarasota, Fla. : How in the world could you not pick Billy Donovan as one of the best "young" coaches in college basketball?

You're referring to the roundtable question from a couple weeks back which specified that we choose someone 40 or younger. "Billy the Kid" turned 43 in May, which actually isn't all that young by today's standards. In fact, there are four coaches in the SEC who are younger: Arkansas' John Pelphrey (40), Auburn's Jeff Lebo (42), Ole Miss' Andy Kennedy (40) and South Carolina's Darrin Horn (35).

Atlantic 10 surprise?

Al from Chicago : Can Dayton surprise people in the Atlantic 10? Who is their best player?

Dayton won't be surprising anyone within the A-10. The Flyers were voted third in the league's preseason poll.

I think that's a little high. A fifth- or sixth-place finish seems more likely to me. The Flyers return three of their top four scorers, but the one who is missing guard Brian Roberts is a huge loss. Roberts has been the Flyers' leading scorer for the last three seasons. Last season, Roberts averaged 18.4 ppg, nearly eight full points more than their second-leading scorer, promising big man Chris Wright (10.5 ppg). He also dished out a team-high 3.4 apg.

I don't see how the Flyers can lose someone like that and get better. Scoring is going to be tougher. Roberts' leadership will also be missed.

Wright (their best player), who was limited to 15 games last season due to an ankle injury, is the kind of player the Flyers can build around this season. A former top-100 prospect, the 6-8 power forward could be a first-team all-league player. But I just don't think he has enough help around him to make the Flyers a real contender in the A-10 yet.

Young Ducks

Jachin from Springfield, Ore. : How do you think the Oregon Ducks will fare this season, and how talented do you think the incoming freshmen are?

Even if you only follow Oregon loosely you know the answer to the first part of the question isn't good.

Only a handful of teams in the entire country lost more. Three seniors who have each been major pieces in the last four seasons are gone. Maarty Luenen, Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor combined for 58 percent of the team's scoring and 52 percent of their rebounding last season.

The good news is that Oregon coach Ernie Kent won some big recruiting battles once again. The Ducks' six-man recruiting class includes two four-star prospects: 6-9 center Michael Dunigan and 6-5 wing Matthew Humphrey. Both have the potential to have the kind of impressive careers that the departed veterans mentioned above did, maybe even better.

I still can't see Oregon doing any better than an NIT bid this year. Junior guard Tajuan Porter (13.9) is the only double-digit scorer returning, and he's way too streaky of a shooter to be counted on for carrying the offense. The infusion of so much youth probably means a sub-par defense as well.

Quotes of note

Cory from Huntsville, Ala. : You've been traveling across the country to conference media days. What are some of the most entertaining quotes you have heard?

Connecticut big man Jeff Adrien might be the most candid player in college basketball. Here's what Adrien had to say about the new 3-point line at the Big East media day:

"I don't even know why they are doing it. It's just a waste of money. I don't think it will change anything. I just don't want to see six different lines on the court."

Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett is another guy who doesn't try and sugarcoat much. When asked about the big preseason expectations surrounding the Gaels, he said, "If we were a stock this would be the time to sell."

I'm thinking that can't make his players feel too good.

Andrew Skwara is a national college basketball writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com. Got a question for Andrew's Mailbag? Click here to drop him a note.

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