Updated May 29, 2020 - 1:36 pm
Even with all the accolades, Coronado boys basketball star Jaden Hardy is still just a kid playing basketball. That’s how his coach Jeff Kaufman describes him.
But it doesn’t take long for Hardy to stand out. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Nevada among other awards and is ranked by ESPN as the No. 5 recruit in the class of 2021.
Now he’s added another award, the Review-Journal’s Nevada Preps Boys Athlete of the Year, after scoring 30.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.4 assists per game during a stellar junior season.
“The thing that stands out to me is what a great person he is,” Kaufman said. “He is a great basketball player, but what people don’t know is how good of a human being he is. He’s a warm, sensitive, nice person. At Coronado, where we have about 3,500 kids, he’s very well-liked.”
Hardy is certainly well-liked by college recruiters. The 6-foot-4-inch combo guard recently pared his choice to the top 12, and it includes perennial powers such as Kansas and Kentucky, among others from each Power Five conference.
He’ll eventually make his final choice known, but he’s in no hurry. Hardy said he’s enjoying the process and all the relationships he’s made along the way.
“It’s going well,” Hardy said. “You only get to go through this once, and you only get to pick one. I’ll probably (make my decision) after my senior year.”
Hardy has shown an ability to score and perform in pressure situations since the first game of his freshman season. In that game, Kaufman said, the Cougars trailed Centennial in the final seconds when Hardy was fouled shooting a 3-pointer.
He stepped to the line and made all three foul shots, handing Coronado a win. Since that auspicious debut, Kaufman has always believed Coronado is in the game as long as Hardy is on its side.
At no time was that more apparent than against Cathedral Catholic (California) in January. The Cougars trailed by as many as 21 in the third quarter, but Hardy brought them back. He scored 48 points in the second half and overtime, including going 23-for-24 from the free-throw line, in a school-record 62-point performance and an 85-84 win. He also made nine 3-pointers.
“You’re always in it because he can go unconscious,” Kaufman said. “That’s the beauty of what he does. He’s such a dynamic scorer. To me, he’s the best shooter in the country. He’s one of the best passers in the country. He’s a great defender, and he’s now learning to trust his teammates.”
The Cougars went on to share the Southeast League championship with Liberty and finished 19-8. Their season ended with an 81-77 loss to Durango in the Desert Region semifinals despite Hardy’s 31 points.
Hardy called it a “good season,” but it left unfinished business for his senior year. He has plenty of individual goals, such as trying to become a McDonald’s All-American and Gatorade National Player of the Year.
“I’ve accomplished a lot and have come a long way, but I need to keep improving,” Hardy said. “I do have those individual goals, and I hope I can achieve them. It’s all right there in front of me; I just need to go out and get it.”
But perhaps his greatest motivation going into his final high school campaign comes from a school less than 20 miles away in Bishop Gorman, which tied a national record with its ninth straight state championship last season. Both will compete in the newly formed 5A classification next season.
“Jaden and I talk almost every day, and he wants to go out with a state championship,” Kaufman said. “We’re building a team around him that should be very good.”
Kaufman said the next step for Hardy is to continue building trust with his teammates, since it’s possible he won’t always be the most talented player on the floor.
“When he gets to college, he’s going to have a lot of great players around him,” Kaufman said. “Beyond that, if he makes it to the NBA, he’s going to have a dozen great players around him, so he’s going to have to make the people around him better. That comes with time, but I’m proud of how far he’s come.”
Nevada Preps awards
Thursday: Coach of the Year (Bob Chinn, Faith Lutheran girls soccer)
Friday: Girls Athlete of the Year (Tommi Stockham, Bishop Gorman)
Saturday: Boys Athlete of the Year
Sunday: Game of the Year
Monday: Team of the Year