Las Vegas to C-U connection? Underwood all in on Hardy

Las Vegas to C-U connection? Underwood all in on Hardy

WESTFIELD, Ind. — Jaden Hardy's recruitment is in its earliest stages. The Class of 2021 guard already has a dozen high major scholarship offers, but he's a long way from making any kind of recruiting decision.

There is one coach among those dozen teams, though, he's known a bit longer than the rest. Hardy met Illinois coach Brad Underwood in the fall of 2016 when the then Oklahoma State coach was recruiting Hardy's older brother, Amauri.

Underwood ultimately secured a commitment from Amauri Hardy for the Cowboys. Then, Underwood left Stillwater, Okla., for Champaign, and Hardy de-committed and eventually signed with UNLV.

The Hardy family moved to Las Vegas from Detroit, and Jaden Hardy got an offer of his own from Underwood during his standout freshman season.

"I already know him and know he's a good guy and a really good coach," Hardy said of Underwood. "I know they didn't really do that good this year, but I did see them when they came to play UNLV in Las Vegas. I like the way he coaches. He pushes his guys, and he wants them to get to the next level."

Hardy dropped 29 points and hit a pair of game-winning free throws in his debut at Coronado High School in Henderson, Nev., and the 6-foot-4, 185-pound freshman finished his first high school season as a second team selection on the USA Today All-USA Nevada Boys Basketball Team after averaging nearly 25 points per game for the Cougars.

Hardy has since taken his game to a more national stage. He's one of just a handful of 2021 prospects playing up two age groups on the 17U Nike EYBL circuit this spring. Through two weekends, he's proven he belongs at that level. Hardy is averaging 15.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals for a 4-4 Las Vegas Prospects. Even more notable might be his 40.4 percent three-point shooting.

"A lot of people said I wouldn't be able to do good on the circuit this year, but I'm just proving them wrong and staying locked in," Hardy said. "My teammates continue to push me."

So does his brother. Moving to Nevada allowed Hardy to continue to work with Amauri, who played in all 33 games for UNLV this season as a backup point guard.

"I was preparing for (the EYBL), training with my brother," Hardy said. "I was already ready for this. It helps me a lot. He continues to push me, and he always stays on me about getting better. If I didn't have him, I don't know where I would be."

Rankings aren't out yet for the 2021 class, but Hardy should be among the nation's top prospects. In addition to his Illinois offer, he also holds offers from Arizona State, California, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma, TCU and UNLV.

Already a strong shooter and a threat offensively, Hardy said his focus this spring is working on his ball handling skills. It's the one ding to his EYBL résumé to date, with the freshman guard averaging 3.1 turnovers per game.

"I can get to the basket, and I can create my shot off the dribble," Hardy said. "A lot of people just really don't know how to guard me. But I'm working on my handle, getting it tighter."

Getting an early start

Illinois has offered just two other Class of 2021 prospects in addition to Jaden Hardy. Beat writer SCOTT RICHEY breaks down the youngest of the Illini recruiting targets:

Moussa Diabate, 6-9, 190

Diabate has played basketball for just two years after moving from Paris to the United States. He played his freshman season at Florida Prep Academy alongside 2018 Illinois signee Samba Kane and also received his offer in early March like Kane. Diabate currently holds other offers from Georgia Tech, Memphis, Miami, UNLV and Virginia Tech.

Adrian Griffin Jr., 6-4, 165

Illinois has targeted the entire Archbishop Stepinac (N.Y.) backcourt, signing Alan Griffin — his older brother — in the 2018 class and offering Class of 2020 guard R.J. Davis. A.J. Griffin was just as instrumental in the Crusaders' triple title spring, putting up 12.1 points and six rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from three-point range.