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Panthers' Harthun signs letter of intent

Michael Harthun made official Thursday something he'd been working toward his entire life, signing a letter of intent to play Pac-10 Conference basketball at Washington State University.

The South Medford senior had made a verbal commitment to the school six months ago, but the emotion of Thursday's signing was not lost on him or his beaming family members on hand.

"It just means a ton to me that I've finally accomplished such an amazing dream," said Harthun, who grew up watching and wanting to play Pac-10 basketball.

The 6-foot-3 guard is the highest rated of a five-member class signed by Cougars head coach Tony Bennett, with Harthun rated 20th among shooting guards and 96th overall by Scout.com.

He averaged 20 points and almost five assists during the regular season last season, and provided a perfect complement to Kyle Singler to help lead South Medford to its first-ever state title. Harthun scored a game-high 24 points in the championship game against Lake Oswego and standout Kevin Love.

"Obviously, at this point he's our second-best player ever to come through here and he may end up being the best, who knows, when all is said and done," said South Medford boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy. "He's just meant a tremendous amount to this program. You look at what we've accomplished in the three years that he's played here and it's been pretty special. And we still have one more year."

The Panthers have finished sixth, second and first in the state tournament with Harthun at the helm. His 1,388 career points at South Medford trails Singler's 2,207 for the most in school history, and Harthun is already the Panthers' all-time assist leader (464) and single-season assist leader (198).

Also signing with Washington State were Marcus Capers, a 6-5 point guard from Florida; Klay Thompson, a 6-6 shooting guard from California and son of former No. 1 overall NBA pick Mychal Thompson; James Watson, a 6-8 forward from Oklahoma; and Nick Witherill, a 6-3 shooting guard from Arizona.

"As a whole, obviously, we're encouraged and excited about bringing in this class," Bennett said in a statement Thursday. "They're very similar to the group that are now seniors. It's the next big group of recruits."

Even though he is one of four guards in the 2008 recruiting class, Harthun said that doesn't dampen his outlook on joining Washington State.

"I actually look at it as more of a challenge and an opportunity to get better more than anything else," he said. "They're going to be my teammates, and I'm going to treat them like family and go out every day and just compete for that starting spot."

Helping matters is the fact that the Cougars often play with three guards in their lineup. Harthun also appreciates the option of playing as a combination guard who comes off screens and can bring the ball up occasionally.

"No player is a replica of another," Bennett added. "Harthun can play the one and the two. He's a lot like Derrick Low in terms of his ability to shoot the ball and play some one."

Harthun said he made an instant connection with Bennett, his staff and players last May, and has been impressed with the family atmosphere at Washington State ever since.

"It makes me feel really good that the coaches from the start have shown a lot of confidence in me," he said. "I definitely have to prove myself a lot more than I have, but coming in they trust in me and know I'm going to give the program everything I have."

Reach sports reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488 or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Panthers' Harthun signs letter of intent