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Marquee point guards square off on Friday

With apologies to all the big men out there, the Class 6A boys basketball ranks stand to be dominated by guard play this season.

As such, local fans will be in for a treat Friday night at 7 when two of the state's best square off at South Medford High in Sunset's Garrett Sim and the Panthers' Michael Harthun.

Both point guards have already signed to play Pac-10 Conference basketball next season, with Sim headed to California and Harthun to Washington State, and both expect to be in the thick of the race this season for 6A player of the year.

"There's these two kids, Paul McCoy at Grant and Brad Tinsley at Oregon City (who have signed with Pepperdine)," says South Medford coach Dennis Murphy. "Those four are really the guards in this class that have taken over the state. I wouldn't be surprised that whomever's team ends up with the blue trophy Saturday night in Eugene (this March) probably ends up as player of the year, and rightfully so. They're all special players."

The 6-foot-1 Sim averaged 18.2 points last season for Sunset, earning player of the year honors for the Metro League after helping the Apollos reach the state playoffs after a two-year absence. Like Harthun, Sim was named second-team all-state.

"From what I've been told, Garrett Sim has gotten much better over the summer," said Murphy. "I think his game has matured a lot. He shoots it well and handles it well, and the thing I've been told is he's gotten much better at doing things that make his teammates better. Anytime you start doing that, it surely makes your team better."

Sunset enters Friday's game ranked third in the state with a 7-1 record, and has been far from a one-man show. The addition of Westview transfer Greg Shepard, who stands 6-7, has helped shore down the Apollos' front line, and the return of seniors Phillip Campbell (6-5 forward), Tyler Parker (6-3 guard) and Ryan Bennett (5-11 guard) gives Sunset a solid starting nucleus.

Sim is averaging a team-best 22.9 points thus far, with Campbell at 11.9 and Shepard and Parker each around seven points.

"I'm certain that they're excited to come down here and play," says Murphy, whose team is ranked No. 1. "They've got a lot to gain if they can beat us. We just look at the situation as a great opportunity for us because we're going to play a very good basketball team and it's good preparation for the Les Schwab Invitational and, hopefully, getting back to the state tournament in March."

Murphy says Sim is certain to get his share of points in Friday's endowment game, although he hopes it's well shy of his season-high of 43 last year.

The Panthers (5-0) aim to counter with the kind of solid defense that helped guide them to their second championship at the Red Bluff Holiday Classic this past weekend.

"I'm hoping that we can build on that performance," says Murphy. "We've always played good defense and this group might be one of the better defensive groups we've had."

Besides his play on offense — Harthun averages a team-high 22.8 points thus far — the 6-3 senior has also turned it up a notch this season on defense. His 18 steals thus far leads the team, and he averaged only two turnovers per game during the Panthers' trip to Red Bluff despite constantly being hounded.

"He surely played well for us in Red Bluff," says Murphy.

Harthun shot a blistering 58 percent from the field in Red Bluff (30-for-52), including 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

He'll be counted on to produce similar results Friday for the Panthers to continue their nonconference home winning streak. The last time South Medford dropped a home game was on Dec. 30, 2004, when Crescent Valley stunned the Panthers 61-48 to deny the local boys their sixth straight Abby's Holiday Classic title.

A few weeks prior to that, South Eugene took advantage of Panther inexperience and a thumb injury to then-sophomore Kyle Singler to claim a 57-51 victory on Dec. 3, 2004. That season-opening contest snapped a 41-game home winning streak for South Medford, and was also the debut performance for Harthun.

Even then Harthun's performance foretold of great things to come, with the wide-eyed freshman scoring 11 of his 14 points in the second half to spark a rally that fell short in the waning seconds.

The last home loss of any kind for the Panthers, save a forfeited win over Roseburg last season, was when Grants Pass earned a 59-57 triumph on Feb. 8, 2005.

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

South High basketball Michael Harthun