Fear The Beard: Pera Shares Unique Harden Stories

Rice head basketball coach Scott Pera knew James Harden long before he was the NBA dominating, Kardashian dating, MVP. The two go back to when Pera was the head basketball coach at Artesia High School in Lakewood, California and Harden was simply a normal, basketball-loving teenager trying to find his way.

“There were other guys who came in physically more gifted athletically at that age,” Pera, a former Arizona State assistant under Herb Sendek, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning with Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat. “He came to me young, almost a year young for his grade. He loved to play. He could really shoot.”

One of Harden’s biggest attributes was his natural feel for the game. 

“He may be one of the smartest players ever to play,” Pera explained. “He’s got a brilliant mind for the game and that leads to all his creativity. Back then I could see it in some of the passes he’d throw. The things he saw that other guys didn’t.”

Harden, who helped Pera and Artesia to a 33-1 record and state championship as a junior, quickly became one of the hottest college prospects in 2006. After helping Artesia repeat as state champs he was named a McDonald’s All-American and also earned second-team Parade All-American honors.

“Things just started going,” Pera said. “Every two months you would just see incredible improvements. It just kept morphing into the next thing. Very similar to his NBA career.”

A naturally gifted athlete, Pera believes Harden could have easily attained similar athletic success at Artesia if he chose to.

“He could throw a football pretty far and he had pretty good hand-eye coordination on the football field,” Pera said with a chuckle. “I have a feeling he could have been a pretty good three-sport high school athlete.”

History has proven James Harden and basketball turned out to be the perfect match.

Fear the Beard. 

A Valley native, Eric has had a passion for the Arizona sports scene since an early age. He has covered some of the biggest events including Super Bowls, national championships and the NBA and MLB playoffs in his near 20 years in local media.