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Look Who's Playing : Lightly Recruited Jason Hartman Has Emerged at Washington

February 24, 1996|KENNEDY COSGROVE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BERKELEY — It's game time at a Pacific-10 Conference basketball game and there he stands: 6 feet 7 inches, buzz haircut, linebacker body, calm demeanor.

Same old Jason Hartman. Just like his days at Thousand Oaks High.

But much has changed in the past two years and that's also obvious as Hartman, a 19-year-old sophomore, enters the game for his team, the Washington Huskies, in cramped and chaotic Harmon Arena at the University of California.

Hartman's nearly shaved dome and smooth shooting stroke are beginning to receive major media attention. There he was on ESPN's SportsCenter earlier this month, scoring 18 points and winning the Huskies' game at Arizona with a last-second free throw. Check out his name in the headlines after his frequent scoring binges, which have helped Washington to its first winning record in nine seasons.

And there Hartman is now, guarding Cal's Shareef Abdur-Rahim, whom some experts project as a future NBA lottery pick, and helping to force him to miss two of every three shots he takes.

Yes, it's a whole new world for the lightly recruited Hartman, who has surprised many people--including himself--by excelling in a major Division I basketball program.

"Obviously, coaches from other schools didn't think I could play at this level, and at times I doubted it too," Hartman said. "But I hung out and did a little last year and this year I'm doing even better. It's been a blast. The bottom line is, I'm really happy."

And Washington is positively glowing. The 230-pound forward with the no-nonsense game is averaging eight points (third-best on the team) for the Huskies, a rejuvenated squad seeking a postseason berth.

Washington faces Stanford at 5 p.m. today in a conference game made all the more crucial by the Huskies' loss to Cal on Thursday. Washington (14-8, 7-6 in Pac-10 play) already has matched its victory total for the previous two seasons combined, but has lost four of its last five.

The game also happens to be a reunion of sorts. David Harbour, a senior from Camarillo High, and Arthur Lee, a freshman from North Hollywood, play for Stanford. The game could have included a fourth player from the region, Alex Lopez from Campbell Hall, but Lopez recently announced he was leaving Washington and would transfer at the end of the school year.

Harbour starts at forward and averages 9.5 points. Lee is the understudy to Brevin Knight, the Cardinal's star point guard.

Hartman, Lee and Lopez played together during their high school years on a high-profile summer league all-star team called Team Avia, and remain friends.

"I always look in the box score to see how Art did," Hartman said. "I really like the guy and think he will do real well as soon as Brevin Knight is out of there."

Said Lee of his playing days with Hartman: "He was phenomenal, one of the best players I'd seen. And he has a great attitude, calm demeanor. He's just a good guy to be around."

That seems to be the consensus.

"There is not a guy on this team who doesn't respect Jason," Washington Coach Bob Bender said. "Not only for how hard he works and the way he's been playing but because of his personality. He makes people feel comfortable, and he seems to know when maybe a guy needs a pat on the back. He's very giving, and a lot of credit for that goes to the way he was brought up by his family."

Hartman has a reputation for maturity within his family. "All the players know they can go to him and gab and know that he'll be there for them," said Hartman's father, Dean. "He's a young man with morals and experience and even though he's only 19, when I have a problem I know that I can go to him. He's very mature for his age."

On the court, Hartman sparks the team as its first player off the bench, alternately launching three-point shots--he shoots 43% from long distance--and throwing his bulk around near the basket.

"He reminds me a lot of [NBA star] Dan Majerle," teammate Mark Sanford said. "He's a big guy who can shoot, post up, run the floor. We call him 'Majerle' all the time in practice. He's really having a breakthrough year."

Despite such testimonials, it wasn't always so easy for Hartman after leaving Thousand Oaks. Though he was twice voted Ventura County player of the year, Washington was the only Pac-10 school to recruit him.

He struggled at the beginning of his freshman year and doubts crept into his mind.

"I didn't think I was that good in high school," he said. "And even last year, I thought, 'These guys are really good, maybe I belong at a little smaller level.' "

But he persevered and improvement came rapidly. He scored 20 points in his fifth game, and finished the season by scoring in double figures eight times in his last 13 games.

This season, he has been more consistent and also more explosive, with four games of 17 points or more. One particular moment of glory came during a game against Arizona on Feb. 1.

With the score tied in overtime, Hartman was fouled with one second remaining. He calmly hit his first free throw, intentionally missed the second and Washington claimed an 80-79 victory.

The TV cameras sought him out after the game, the press flocked to see him, and his answering machine in Washington was filled with congratulatory messages.

Not bad for a guy who two years ago was ignored by most colleges, now playing for a team which two years ago won only five games. The Hartman and Husky bandwagons were empty then, but not now. And there promises to be more highlights for Hartman and his team, as both continue to improve.

"He's a guy I'm very proud of," Bender said. "Because he came in very unheralded and he's proven himself to be a player who's definitely made an impact. In fact, the success we've had this year, and the turnaround we've had in our program, can directly relate to Jason."

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