DEVON HARDIN has always been a pretty smart and stable guy. He was a 4.0 student at Newark Memorial High and a young man who clearly understood the value and importance of getting a college education at a place like the University of California.

What's more, Hardin has always had a strong family behind him, supporting the tough decision-making processes a 6-foot-11 basketball prodigy has to make.

That's why it seemed so strange when another Bay Area newspaper reported Sunday that Hardin had hired an agent and was ready to take the NBA draft plunge despite uncertain prospects that he would be a first-round pick.

Thankfully, those reports were erroneous. Hardin will be returning to Cal for his senior season, which is great news for Ben Braun and the Golden Bears but an even better development for Hardin. Quite likely, he will make himself a significantly richer man a year from now than he would have had he decided to take the gamble of turning pro now.

Hardin did declare his eligibility for the draft in April but actually did so for the right reasons — to show off his skills for NBA teams but also to gain a more accurate gauge of where he might be drafted. He wisely sat out the NBA's predraft camp becausehe hadn't played competitively since last December, when he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot during the second month of his junior season.

Instead, he worked out individually for more than a dozen NBA teams, including the Warriors this past week, which allowed him to gather and disseminate information about his prospects. Even though his draft stock may have risen by making the tour — financed out-of-pocket by his family — Hardin wisely deduced that turning pro was probably too dicey.

Perhaps he studied the plight of his former teammate, Leon Powe, who declared for the draft last year and wound up not being selected until the 52nd pick, past the midway point of the second round, by Denver. Worse yet, Powe didn't play much for the team he eventually landed with, Boston, despite the Celtics being one of the worst team in the league.

Because of his history of severe injury, Powe still probably made the right choice to jump to the NBA. Hence, a more accurate comparison might have been former Cal big man Jamaal Sampson, who had an NBA body similar to Hardin's and turned pro after his freshman season at Cal.

Amazingly, Sampson is still clinging to an NBA career, but he has played for five teams in five seasons and has played in a mere 72 games total, averaging 8.8 minutes at age 25. As a fourth-year pro last season, Sampson did manage to get a contract worth nearly $800,000 from the Denver Nuggets as an injury replacement.

But is that making it big in the NBA? Maybe for Sampson it is, but Hardin's prospects would seem higher with one more year of college seasoning ... and he should have his degree in hand if it turns out they aren't. He'll be set up for a good life regardless of what happens.

That said, it has to be a tempting endeavor for any young player when you start hearing your name compared to established NBA standouts. Hardin, to be sure, has some rare natural gifts — he's not only 6-11 but also plays taller because of his wingspan, leaping ability, athleticism and shot-blocking skills. Hardin has been likened to Dwight Howard and Ben Wallace in some draft projections.

The reality is that he lacks Howard's offensive polish and hasn't consistently demonstrated he can be a defensive and rebounding force like Wallace ... yet. One more season in college could get him a lot closer, though, possibly into the NBA lottery.

The difference financially between a 20th pick and a 10th pick over the course of the first three years is roughly double the dollar amount, and the fourth-year option and fifth-year qualifying offer take the earning potential of a higher pick to an even greater extreme.

Of course, the difference between being the 10th pick and the 30th pick widens the gap even more, and Hardin's odds of being the 30th pick were probably greater than going No. 20 or higher. 

All in all, his decision was pretty much a no-brainer, but then again, we've seen so many young prospects make the jump with little or no brains behind their decision with disastrous results.

It's nice to know the draft-declaration system still works for players who can weigh their options a little more creatively and objectively. Hardin probably enhanced his draft status just by giving teams a closer look at him, both as a player and as a person.

Yes, maybe the Warriors might have taken him with the No. 18 pick. But let's be honest, in Andris Biedrins they have a 21-year-old center with a bright future who's not going anywhere, and they also drafted 7-foot Patrick O'Bryant last year, and Bryant spent much of the year playing in the developmental league.

Hardin surely came to the realization that he will be far better off playing in the Pac-10 than the D League or keeping some NBA bench warm. He may be a little poorer, but it'll only be temporary, and he's going to have a lot more fun having made this call. Good work, DeVon. Smarter than ever.

Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or by e-mail at

csteward@angnewspapers.com.