While UNLV starting point guard Jordan Johnson sat in a sweatsuit watching Tuesday morning’s basketball practice from the far side Mendenhall Center, Amauri Hardy took his spot in a drill on one of the two courts.
It was a snapshot of the future.
Hardy, a 6-foot-2-inch freshman, has received valuable practice and game experience as he puts himself in position to take that position full time possibly as soon as next season.
“Game experience is great, but there’s a lot more to development than actually playing in games,” UNLV coach Marvin Menzies said. “It’s a big piece of it because it’s real experience, but there’s also daily instruction. It’s like being in a classroom. Yeah, you’ve got to pass the test when the test comes, but how do you pass the test? You do what you’re supposed to do in class every day. So his development for next year is really how we approach every day, not just how much he plays.”
Hardy should once again come off the bench when UNLV (9-2) plays Mississippi Valley State (0-11) Wednesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. Johnson is expected to start despite missing Tuesday’s practice with an illness. Additionally, forward Anthony Smith (left ankle) will be evaluated Wednesday after also missing practice.
The Rebels are 29½-point favorites in the game that will be televised on AT&T SportsNet.
Hardy so far has averaged 17.3 minutes, highest among the reserves. He also averages five points and 1.7 assists, and has learned to make the most of his role after last season at North Farmington (Michigan) High School in which he had 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game.
“It took some time,” Hardy said. “I talked to the coaches about it, and they understood the change for me. We’ve got a couple of seniors ahead of me, a couple of great guys, so when I come in, I don’t really look for mine (points), necessarily. I try to pick my shots and attack when the lane is open, stuff like that, not really try to do too much.”
Much is expected of Hardy, a four-star recruit who originally committed to Oklahoma State before coach Brad Underwood left for Illinois. They met again Dec. 9 when UNLV played the Fighting Illini at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The Rebels didn’t play their best game, but still won 89-82 largely because Hardy provided an almost calming influence. He scored seven points and had two assists, and effectively helped run the offense during the 21 minutes he was on the court.
“He has the confidence because he’s been there, he knows what it looks like, at least at the high school level, and to be a target,” Menzies said. “Confidence is built by how you roll and how you handle your business daily, so it wasn’t surprising to me, much like Brandon (McCoy). Guys that have a lot of accolades in high school usually have seen some form of what would be pressure, but have had some experience handling it.”
UNLV needs Hardy to gain as much experience as possible, what with senior guards Johnson and Jovan Mooring exhausting their eligibility. Hardy is learning from both upperclassmen, who have encouraged him to keep working and that the payoff would come.
“You want to get out there,” Hardy said. “You feel like you can give more to your team. I’ve felt like that a lot of times, but I know my time is coming.”