PROVO -- Noah Hartsock can brag that he once blocked NBA All-Star Blake Griffin. And the Brigham Young senior soon might be able to say he recorded more blocks for the Cougars than 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley.
Yet the 6-8 forward with the thinning hair and "aw-shucks" personality knows not to go overboard.
The Griffin block happened in high school, and Hartsock points out that Bradley needed only one year, not four, for his 177 blocks.
With 52 blocks this season and 174 in his career, Hartsock must come up big again when BYU (25-8) faces fellow No. 14 seed Iona (25-7) Tuesday in Dayton as part of the NCAA tournament's First Four games. The winner will face No. 3 Marquette on Thursday in Louisville in the East region.
"He means everything," freshman guard Matt Carlino said of Hartsock's value to the team. "He's unbelievable. ... He's always in there, getting the ball, getting the rebound ... getting a block. People don't realize how many little things he does."
The only time Hartsock couldn't step up was when he recently tried to play though a knee injury. Now, after more than a week to pamper it since BYU's exit from the West Coast Conference tourney, Hartsock insists he's rested and ready for Iona.
Of course, he'd love to jump past Bradley, who is second on BYU's all-time shot-blocking list with 177 behind Greg Kite (208) -- a member of BYU's 1981 team that Danny Ainge led to the NCAA Eastern Regionals.
"I think that would be fun to say down the line," said Hartsock, who has met Bradley several times.
It's the same looking back on that prep game when Hartsock was a junior at Bartlesville (Okla.) High and Griffin was a sophomore at Oklahoma Christian School.
"It's a fond memory now, because we didn't know how good he was going to be back then," he said of Griffin, now the high-flying star of the Los Angeles Clippers. "We knew he'd go Division 1, but to see what he's doing now just gives you a little more bragging rights."
BYU coach Dave Rose will be the first to admit Hartsock is "not a high-flying guy" -- just one with a knack for the ball and a great sense of timing.
And of course, there's that self-effacing humor. Hartsock acknowledges he doesn't have the greatest leaping ability and readily admits his volleyball-playing wife is a better athlete.
"Noah embraces the fact he can get a lot done on the floor in a lot of different ways than a lot of guys," Rose said. "That confidence is such a big key in your ability to be successful. Noah's really confident in his ability in what he can do."
Yet becoming a shot-blocker all started with getting the ball swatted back in his face growing up in a family of seven kids, including several older, taller brothers.
"There were many guys who blocked me," Hartsock said. "It just made me want to play more. It motivated me to be like them."
In high school, he had 100 blocks in 27 games as a senior, including one on a layup as time expired after he had scored the go-ahead shot at the other end.
It was memorable because he already had committed to BYU, and coach Rose was in attendance.
Since joining Rose's team, Hartsock hasn't disappointed, especially with everyone wondering who would be BYU's scoring leader after national player of the year Jimmer Fredette graduated.
It's been Hartsock, who leads the team in points (16.7) and minutes (30.9), and is third in rebounding (5.2). He posted back-to-back double-doubles against Oregon and Weber State, and had three or more blocks in nine games this season, while shooting 56.5 percent from the field.
But March Madness is what it's all about, and even Hartsock won't argue that there's a different vibe this season without Jimmermania.
"Just trying to leave practice was hard because there were people waiting, and when we'd go on the road they were waiting at the hotel the night before," Hartsock said. "I'd never seen anything like it. It was a lot of fun."
Even with Jimmer, the Cougars were missing a key ingredient in last year's run to the round of 16, with 6-9 forward Brandon Davies off the team because of an honor code violation.
This season, Davies (15.0 points, 7.3 rebounds) is back on board, and the team is ready for the next challenge.
"It doesn't always happen the way you want," Hartsock said. "It was a great run, we had a lot of fun and hopefully we make another run at it this year."