Late last week, John Calipari’s nationwide tour to open the fall recruiting period took him to Coronado High School in Nevada, the basketball home of five-star shooting guard Jaden Hardy.
By the time Calipari left the gym that day, Hardy had a scholarship offer to play for Kentucky.
The UK coach left quite an impression.
“When Coach Calipari walks in a gym and comes to see a kid like Jaden — I can honestly tell you, it meant the world to him,” Coronado head coach Jeff Kaufman told the Herald-Leader. “It was something that he takes very serious. And something that he really wanted and something that he’s been working for. It’s an offer, but — for these kids — it’s a big accomplishment. He was very humbled. He was very respectful. He was excited that Coach came to see him in person. It was very nice to watch.”
Kaufman was also impressed by Calipari, who he said stayed at the school for two and a half hours, engaging with the other players on Hardy’s team. Coronado had a preseason game scheduled for the day after Calipari’s visit, and the UK coach told Kaufman to make sure and let him know how Hardy performed. It was a late game on the West Coast, so Kaufman texted Calipari the next morning: “Coach, just want to update you on the game. We won, 73-72.”
“And literally by the time I hit send, the phone was ringing and it was him,” Kaufman said. ‘Well how did Jaden do? How did Jaden do?’ And just for him to be concerned about that was great.”
Kaufman informed Calipari that Hardy had scored 40 points in the victory, adding “Is that a lot?”
The high school coach could sense Calipari’s smile as he spoke on the other line: “Yeah, that’s a good number.”
That scoring ability is what has drawn the attention of just about every major college coach to Hardy, a 6-foot-4 prospect in the 2021 class who has proven to be a dynamic force from long range.
As a sophomore last season, Hardy averaged 26.2 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.4 assists and 2.7 steals per game, earning first-team sophomore all-American honors from MaxPreps.com. He also made 48.6 percent of his three-point shots, and many of those attempts came under difficult circumstances.
“That’s really a big number, considering the fact that they’re sending two guys at him,” Kaufman said. “And he handles the ball. He’ll bring the ball up at least half the time. You’re talking about automatic double teams and he’s still hitting those kind of percentages.
“He gets to the rim really well. He jumps really well, so he’ll get in and he’ll dunk it. And he can pretty much do what he wants to do. Defensively, he’s really long, works really hard. Talks. He’s been a leader here since his freshman year.”
That aspect of Hardy’s game — his attitude — is something that Kaufman says coaches like Calipari will start to appreciate more as they get to know him throughout the recruiting process.
“The most important thing that I can tell you about him: he’s a phenomenal person,” he said. “Nowadays, you go to all these events — you watch the Nike EYBL and the Nike Skills Academy and you go to (Steph) Curry camp — and the kids are like mini-NBA guys. They have that attitude and that swagger. Jaden is just not that kid. He’s humble. He’s kind to people. He’s a high school kid.”
More than likely, Hardy will end up at a big-time college basketball program with other highly touted players around him. If he comes to a place like Kentucky, he could share the court with a half-dozen (or more) McDonald’s All-American types.
Kaufman expects his star play would have no problem blending into such an environment.
“Nowadays, I think that’s what’s right and what’s wrong with recruiting,” he said. “Coaches are stuck — they’ve got to get these great players that aren’t necessarily the greatest fit. Jaden is looking for fit. He’s looking for that environment that he can embrace, for the right reasons. So, I think he’s going to fit into any environment that he goes into, because he’s respectful of that kind of stuff. That’s a plus for him.”
Hardy also happens to be one of the few star players at his position in the 2021 class.
Terrence Clarke’s commitment to Kentucky and announcement that he would move to the 2020 class made Hardy the No. 1 shooting guard in the Rivals.com rankings for 2021. (He’s No. 10 overall in that class). Aminu Mohammed is the No. 2 shooting guard in the class and No. 14 overall. No other player listed at shooting guard is ranked in the Top 25.
Hence, the early interest on UK’s part.
“Jaden Hardy is the top shooting guard in that class, and it’s hard to make an argument for who else is elite at the ‘2’ guard spot,” Rivals.com’s Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “I think Kentucky realizes that. I think they understand, ‘Hey, we need to get going on Jaden Hardy, because if we miss …’
“Kentucky is known for their ‘2’ guards. They’re known for their scorers. And if they miss on a guy like Hardy, where do they go at the ‘2’ guard spot a year or two from now?”
Evans mentioned UCLA, UNLV (where Hardy’s brother plays), and Michigan and Michigan State — Hardy lived in Detroit before moving to the Las Vegas area three years ago — as some other schools to watch early in his recruitment. “And I think if Kentucky pursues, they could be hard to beat,” he added.
UK assistant coach Joel Justus was back at Coronado High School on Wednesday to show how much the Wildcats want Hardy on their side. Kaufman said Hardy was hoping to come to Lexington for next month’s Big Blue Madness, but that event conflicts with USA Basketball’s training camp in Colorado, so he won’t be able to make it.
“So nothing is set in stone right now,” Kaufman said. “But I’m sure that he’s going to want to come out and see you guys soon.”