Without Bryce Harper, College of Southern Nevada would still field its most talented baseball team ever this season.
But with Harper, widely regarded as the top prospect in the country, the Coyotes are ranked No. 1 in the nation and Coyotes coach Tim Chambers can barely contain his enthusiasm entering today's 7 p.m. season opener against Arizona Western at Morse Stadium in Henderson.
"I'm excited, not just because we have the kid. We're loaded," said Chambers, starting his 11th season. "I want to see the team that's better than us. We've never had this much talent, never even close."
Harper, who will catch and bat third tonight, exploded onto the national scene last summer, when as a 16-year-old he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as baseball's "Chosen One."
The 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound Harper, who turned 17 in October, gained further notoriety when he decided to skip his final two years at Las Vegas High School, earn his GED and enroll at CSN so that he would be eligible for June's first-year player draft. He is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick.
"It freaks me out a little bit that the No. 1 baseball prospect in America plays at CSN and is a junior in high school," Chambers said. "I'm so pumped about it. We start eight (college) sophomores and one junior in high school.
"I say it that way because I want everybody who has an opinion on (Harper) to understand he's a junior in high school, not a freshman in college, and he's hitting (third) for one of the top (junior college) teams in the country."
Although Harper got off to a slow start in fall ball at CSN, Chambers said he is worthy of the hype.
"There's no question, talent-wise, I've never seen anything like it. Ever," he said. "It's just sick."
But, Chambers added, "It's our job, as coaches, to protect him," so he has made Harper off-limits to the media for the past few months. Last summer, perhaps overwhelmed by the high-intensity attention, Harper lost 20 pounds and went into a slump for the first time in his life.
"Things were a little haywire, so we just shut the media down, and he proceeded to be very good," Chambers said. "We just basically sheltered him. I don't believe he needs to talk. People don't realize he's a kid.
"It's taken the pressure off him, and his teammates have taken him in. It's the best thing we can do for him, and because of that he got back to reality."
Chambers said he has turned down repeated interview requests for Harper from "60 Minutes," ESPN and the Major League Baseball Network and continues to field inquiries each day.
Harper hit .385 with four home runs in 10 fall games for the Coyotes, but only after receiving a rude introduction to the college game.
"He rolls into our place with the best pitching staff in the history of our program, and they start to dominate him and he's like, 'What's going on?' " Chambers said. "I had to call him into my office and tell him, 'You're fine. The faster you learn you're not going to hit .700, the better off you're going to be.'
"He said, 'I should be able to dominate this league,' and I said, 'You will dominate this league, but by hitting .375, not .700.' "
Chambers said his sophomore-laden squad isn't jealous of Harper and has warmly welcomed him. Harper was already close with several Coyotes, including older brother Bryan Harper, a 6-5 sophomore left-handed starter who transferred from Cal State Northridge, and Marvin Campbell, a 6-4 sophomore first baseman/left fielder from Las Vegas High who is expected to bat cleanup.
"All of our kids know who Bryce is. He's fit in great," Chambers said. "They mess with him a lot. He's fun. Thank God he's grown up a lot."
A sellout crowd of more than 2,000 is expected tonight, and Chambers said he expects at least 100 scouts to show up.
CSN features three of the top-10 junior college prospects in the country and six of the top 100. Seven Coyotes have committed to play for Division I schools next season.
Tonight's starter, Joe Robinson, a sophomore right-hander from Green Valley, is the No. 8 prospect, and Tyler Hanks, a sophomore right-hander from Utah, is No. 10. Robinson, who is headed to Georgia, throws in the mid-90s. Hanks, who has committed to Oklahoma State, has been clocked at 97 mph.
"If we stay healthy and humble, there's absolutely no question, from a talent standpoint, we're better than we've ever been," Chambers said.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354.