Hardin making the grade at Walsh

Jesse Hardin’s 6-foot-1 frame isn’t all that imposing, especially compared to his Walsh University teammate, 7-1, 245-pound Hrvoje Vucic.

Hardin’s 15.8 points a game makes him a team leader for the Cavaliers. His 44 percent from 3-point range is the best on the team, but those numbers don’t matter much to coach Jeff Young.

The only numbers that really matter to Hardin and Young are the ones followed with GPA. Last season, Hardin was held out of some games because of academic issues.

This year, Hardin, an education major, is a model student-athlete.

“His maturity level, especially with his approach to the classroom,” Young said of the Warren G. Harding graduate. “He really struggled in the his freshman year. He had to figure out what college is all about. This year, it’s been a lot different and his grades have reflected that. He had a couple of tough courses and he did very well in them. He didn’t miss a class all semester. Definitely improved his study habits. He kind of figured it out what he needs to do to be successful academically.”

Hardin can slash to the hoop with the best of them in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Currently, the Cavaliers are first in the South Division with a 10-2 overall record, 6-2 in the conference.

“He’s got natural instincts. He knows how to score,” Young said. “We noticed that watching him play in high school. He’s got great feel for the game. He can score at the rim. He can knock down a 3. At times, we think he’s been a little too unselfish and maybe passing up some good looks, trying to get his teammates involved. He’s done a great job of playing under control and let the game come to him and taking advantage of what he’s good at.”

Where Hardin wants to be isn’t always confined to the perimeter. He likes to be amongst the collision of bodies around the hoop.

“Being one of the shortest guys on the court, I love to go in and rebound,” Hardin said. “Sometimes it happens during the game. We have a 7-footer on the team and I’m trying to take his rebounds. Just going down there and banging with the big bodies is what I love to do.”

Despite being only a sophomore, Young has lofty expectations of the WGH graduate.

“If he’s our best player, then he’s got to do things best players on teams do,” Young said. “He’s got to be the first guy in the gym and be the last guy to leave. He’s got to be working hard every day in practice. That’s a process. That’s not something that happens automatically, even for a kid that’s a sophomore. He’s kind of growing into that role and kind of learning our expectations of him. That’s some of the improvement we’ve seen from freshman year to sophomore year.”

Hardin said after leaving Walsh, he’s like to try to play overseas. If that doesn’t work out, he’d like to teach and coach somewhere.

To accomplish either goal, Hardin know he must be vigilant about his studies – something former WGH basketball coach and current WGH football mentor Steve Arnold reminds Hardin of on a weekly basis.

“We talk a couple of days a week, at least, checking on me see how I’m doing, how’s school going,” Hardin said. “He’s continuing to stay on me, tell me about the classroom on the court, go hard every day, keep my mind right in the classroom. Grades are the most important. I can’t do anything without them.”