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Coronado’s Jaden Hardy matures as passer, playmaker

He’s seen practically every conceivable defensive coverage. Traps. Pressures. Matchup zones. All designed to disrupt his rhythm. But Coronado junior Jaden Hardy isn’t deterring double teams.

He’s embracing them.

“Ain’t really no game plan for me, unless you send the whole team at me,” Hardy said with a grin. “Then I’m just going to start diming (passing) it off and let my teammates do them.”

Hardy perhaps is the best pure high school scorer in the country. A three-level dynamo ranked No. 5 in his class by ESPN who erupted for a school-record 62 points Monday in an 85-84 win over California’s Cathedral Catholic. There’s not a shot he can’t create for himself And now, there’s not a shot he can’t create for his teammates, either.

The 6-foot-4-inch two-guard has matured into a better leader and passer, capable of dominating games with his playmaking as much as his scoring. He’s always handled the ball a lot for the Cougars, but has been called upon even more so this season after five-star point guard Richard Isaacs’ departure to Utah juggernaut Wasatch Academy.

Hardy is averaging 34.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.4 assists for Coronado (13-5), which plays eight-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman (16-3) at 8 p.m. Friday in the annual Big City Showdown at Cox Pavilion. ESPNU will televise the game.

“He’s more and more unselfish. His passing is more and more unbelievable,” said Cougars coach Jeff Kaufman, noting the continuity and trust Hardy has developed with teammates. “The game comes easy to him. He sees the court better than anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Scoring always has come easy for Hardy, who stepped onto the varsity court as a freshman in 2017-18 and averaged 25.3 points en route to first-team all-state honors and collegiate interest from the who’s who of Division I programs.

He averaged 25.3 points as a sophomore, too, and cultivated his court vision by playing through perpetual double and triple teams in high school and by playing against some of the country’s best players in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League in the summer.

“Once I’m in the game, it just comes to me,” Hardy said while explaining that he focused last summer on improving his ballhandling. “I can feel when somebody’s open because people are just keying in on me.”

The statistical improvements are palpable for Hardy, but numbers alone can’t quantify his progression as a passer. Commit too much help on his drives, and he’ll drop the ball off to open cutters or post players for layups.

Lurch a step too far toward the paint, and he’ll whiz passes to open shooters on the weak side. Don’t double-team him, though, and risk succumbing to the most lethal devastating barrage in the city.

“Just the fact that he’s a shot-maker, you can double and triple him and he’s still going to score, but he’s also got the ability to make that right play,” Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “He’s got as much talent and upside as any kid that I’ve seen in Vegas.”

Amid all the achievements, offers and accolades, Hardy hopes to accomplish a few more things at Coronado. First up: Beat the vaunted Gaels.

The Cougars lost twice to Gorman last season, in a nationally televised game at the beginning of the season and on a last-second shot in the Desert Region tournament.

“Gorman is good for our community, man. They get attention. They get kids out. They get people to love them, and they get people to hate them,” Kaufman said. “The rivalry is built in. All the kids know each other.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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