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One of the four NBA scouts at Monday's BYU-San Diego basketball game had a surprising answer when he was asked which player he was there to evaluate the most.
"Mostly the Hartsock kid," he said. "He might not have a prototypical NBA body, but he's got some tools, and he can really shoot it."
That would be BYU's 6-foot-8, 230-pound Noah Hartsock, a senior who is the biggest reason the post-Jimmer Fredette Cougars are 16-5 and having a slightly better season than most anticipated, although Thursday night's surprising 82-68 loss to Loyola Marymount could prove to be a crushing blow to their postseason hopes.
And he's suddenly a West Coast Conference Player of the Year candidate, after not even making the preseason all-conference team when the season began. It has been a rapid ascent for a player who averaged only 8.6 points per game last year.
Hartsock is the player who runs like a duck with short, choppy steps, looks like he's older than 24 with bald spots that draw "Rogaine, Rogaine" chants from opposing crowds and has had his nose redirected so many times that he often quips, 'Thank heaven I'm already married.' "
He's known as "Old Reliable" to his teammates due to his consistent play, and now he's starting to become known as a potential pro, probably overseas, but as the scout who didn't want to be identified said, "[NBA] teams are always looking for guys who can shoot."
Hartsock did his part Thursday, scoring a career-high 28 points on 11 of 15 shooting, but the rest of the Cougars were 12 of 45. It was the eighth time Hartsock has scored 20 or more points in his career, and seventh time this season.
LMU coach Max Good said he became a believer after Hartsock scored 17 second-half points against the Lions two weeks ago in Los Angeles.
"That darn Hartsock, I saw him in my sleep last night," Good said Thursday night. "And it all came to fruition today. It wasn't just a dream, it was a reality."
Hartsock and the Cougars will be back on the court Saturday, taking on Pepperdine (6 p.m. MST, BYUtv) at Firestone Fieldhouse on the Waves' Malibu campus.
It has been generally assumed that 6-foot-9 junior center Brandon Davies would be BYU's next pro prospect after Fredette, but Hartsock has slowly improved to the point where scouts are taking notice. He is averaging 17.3 points a game, second-best in the WCC, and had scored in double figures in every game until he went 2-for-12 and had just seven points last Monday against the Toreros.
Although Davies made the preseason all-WCC team and has played well in BYU's seven league games after a rocky start in nonconference play, it is Hartsock, Matthew Dellavedova of St. Mary's and Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga who are believed to be the leading candidates for POY honors. Hartsock was the league's Player of the Month in December.
Coach Dave Rose said Hartsock comes across as an easygoing, gentle giant known for telling corny jokes and riddles and occasionally lightening the mood in the locker room. But deep down he's a fierce competitor and tireless worker, Rose said.
"He's really a tough kid," Rose said, describing how Hartsock has gotten his nose broken so many times that he has lost count.
Rose said Hartsock is probably the best mid-range jump shooter he has ever coached, but the ability to hit those 18-footers didn't come easily to a player who didn't have to stray far away from the basket in high school, due to his height. Told he needed to develop that part of his game if he wanted to be a bigger contributor after his freshman and sophomore seasons at BYU, Hartsock took hundreds of shots a day over the summer, some times with his wife, Kendalyn, helping out with the rebounding.
She's a libero on the BYU women's volleyball team.
Although Loyola Marymount didn't double-team him much, Hartsock has flourished as BYU's primary scoring option despite getting far more attention from opposing defenses than he did when Fredette and Jackson Emery were around.
"It's definitely different when there's more attention paid to you," Hartsock acknowledged. "We kind of knew that would happen, that me and Brandon would get double-teamed, because our inside game has been really productive. But that should open it up for us on different parts of the floor, and other guys will get open looks."
Not blessed with exceptional leaping ability, Hartsock is still a sneaky, underrated shot-blocker. He's fourth on BYU's career shot blocks with 155, behind only Greg Kite (208), Shawn Bradley (177) and Russell Larson (166), guys much taller than him.
"The thing about Noah is that he's gotten better every year and added elements to his game that have helped the team make winning plays," Rose said. "Everything he's achieved this year, he's earned."
Noah Hartsock's improvement
Year GP GS Pts PPG Reb Blk
2008-09 27 0 66 2.4 63 15
2009-10 36 30 233 6.5 184 46
2010-11 37 36 320 8.6 220 61
2011-12 21 21 364 17.3 116 33
BYU at Pepperdine
P At Firestone Fieldhouse, Malibu, Calif.
Tipoff • Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 16-5, 5-5; Pepperdine 7-11, 1-6
Series • Tied, 4-4
Last meeting • BYU, 82-53 (Nov. 18, 2008)
About the Cougars • They are coming off a devastating 82-68 home loss to Loyola Marymount, only the seventh home loss for coach Dave Rose, who is in his seventh season. … Wing Stephen Rogers (knee) is listed as day-to-day and did not play against the Lions. … They got just four points from their bench players in the loss, and were outrebounded 42-33.
About the Waves • Junior guard Caleb Willis scored a career-high 14 points and senior center Corbin Moore grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds in their 61-47 loss at Saint Mary's on Thursday night. … They are coached by former University of Utah assistant Marty Wilson, in his first year as head coach after being an associate head coach the past three seasons. … They are led in scoring by Taylor Darby (11.1 ppg.), the only player averaging in double figures.