Century junior leads charge for the state’s Division I men's basketball prospects

dsouthorn@idahostatesman.comMarch 7, 2014 

— As he watched Malek Harwell drive the lane, dish the ball and drop 3-pointers at Borah High on Thursday, Boise State men’s basketball coach Leon Rice no doubt had visions of the Century High guard doing the same things at Taco Bell Arena.

Harwell, a 6-foot-3 junior, is Idaho's most highly-touted recruit for the 2015 class and part of an influx of talent on the state’s east side. He had 21 points and nine assists with no turnovers in the Diamondbacks’ 55-37 win over Moscow to open 4A state tournament play.

Rice and associate head coach Jeff Linder were on hand to see Harwell, and the Broncos are among a handful of Division I schools that have offered.

“He’s a good leader; he makes his teammates better,’’ Century coach Cody Shelley said. “He can get to the rim almost anytime. You’ve got a kid that can get to the rim, but also elevate and shoot — that’s why Boise State's recruiting him.’’

In addition to Boise State, Utah State, Toledo, San Francisco, Portland and Loyola Marymount, among others, have offered. Coaches from Colorado, Washington, Wyoming and Stanford have come to Pocatello to see Harwell play.

“It’s been fun,’’ said Harwell, averaging 21.5 points per game this season. “I’m enjoying it, taking as much in as I can because I know I have to make a big decision sooner or later.’’

Harwell won’t be able to sign until November at the earliest. He said he has no timetable for a decision, but likely will wait until after the summer club season to see what offers materialize.

On Thursday, he flashed plenty of versatility, hitting three first-half 3-pointers, then continuously attacking the rim for nine points in the fourth quarter, helping turn a five-point lead after 24 minutes into the 18-point win.

“He’s very good; he'll be a great college player,’’ said Bonneville senior forward Jared Stutzman, who has signed with San Francisco. “He’s definitely a Division I athlete, and he’s gotten better this year as a perimeter shooter, too.’’

Harwell has been able to battle through a knee sprain he suffered earlier this season and a slightly twisted ankle he suffered Thursday.

“I try and block it out, play through it — there’s only two games left,’’ Harwell said. “I’m probably 90 percent when the game starts, then 75-80 toward the end.’’

Tenacity and an ability to score in multiple ways are what Rice has in mind for the players he'll need in 2015 after key players like Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are expected to graduate. Harwell said he can see himself fitting in well with the Broncos.

“I love Leon Rice,’’ he said. “He’s a great coach. Their whole staff has been great; they’ve been great to me. They’re definitely on the top of my list.’’

From Skyview’s Kyle Dranginis (Gonzaga) three seasons ago, to Melba’s Joey Nebeker (Boise State) two seasons ago, to Eagle’s Braiden Shaw (BYU) last season and Borah’s Isaiah Wright (Utah) this season, the state’s most-recruited players have been from the Treasure Valley.

But Harwell isn’t the only player from eastern Idaho getting Division I attention. Stutzman had interest from Utah, Utah State and BYU. Bonneville teammate Telly Davenport, a junior guard, has interest from Big Sky and West Coast conference schools. Highland junior guard Stefan Gonzalez has offers from Idaho State and Eastern Washington, while his teammate, sophomore forward Connor Harding, has heavy interest from Boise State, Utah State and BYU.

“It’s unusual — we’ve got a couple of them,’’ Shelley said. “Normally we have maybe one per year, but the next two years we’re going to have three or four.’’

Dave Southorn: 377-6420, Twitter: @IDS_Southorn

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