Hardin out to be ‘dominant’

DeVon Hardin’s two-month flirtation with the NBA draft took him to 20 professional workouts and taught him two invaluable lessons.

First, the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Cal center decided he wasn’t quite ready to go pro. And second, he is returning to Haas Pavilion with a purpose.

“On the court, I learned I can definitely be one of the most dominant players in college basketball,” Hardin said while discussing his summer auditions. “I’m feeling great about my decision. This is such a good program and I feel like the potential this group has is limitless.”

The former Newark Memorial High School of Fremont star explored the draft process without hiring an agent, allowing him to retain his college eligibility for his senior season. And he raises the ceiling for the Bears men’s basketball team this season merely by his presence in the paint.

Cal was 8-3 and allowed just 61.4 points per game in the 11 games Hardin played last season, including a title in the Great Alaska Shootout. But Hardin sustained a stress fracture in his left foot Dec. 19 and missed the remainder of the season, and the Bears scuffled to an 8-14 finish and permitted an average of 73 points per game.

Before the injury, Hardin was on his way to his best season, posting career-high averages in points (10.7) and rebounds (8.4) per game. And in a telling statistic, his 21 blocks in limited action still led the team.

Now, he’ll be back to team up with 6-foot-10 sophomore forward Ryan Anderson, who emerged as Cal’s go-to guy in Hardin’s absence and led the Bears with 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Both were named to the preseason top-50 list for the Naismith Award and, in the time they spent on the court together last year, the combination of Hardin’spowerful post play and Anderson’s ability to score both inside and out seemed to be a successful formula.

“I think we got off to a pretty good start and had a good chemistry together,” Hardin said. “And we’ve been working hard to get that back.”

The duo will be joined by five other players 6-foot-8 or taller, meaning the Bears will have a distinct advantage in brawn against most opponents in a sport typically controlled by guard play.

“I think we’ve got to impose our will on teams and know that our strength is at the basket,” Cal coach Ben Braun said. “And [having DeVon back] will help tremendously on the defensive end as well because it sure helps to have an anchor.”

Hardin is the leading returning career shot blocker in the Pac-10 Conference with 95, and a skill he said came to him somewhat instinctually has both created highlights and instilled confidence in his teammates.

“It definitely allows you to be a little bit more aggressive,” Cal sophomore guard Patrick Christopher said. “Of course you never want to get beat, but in the back of your mind you know DeVon’s back there.”

melliser@examiner.com

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