Vaught's Views: Kentucky's Offer “An Honor” For Jaden Hardy, Top Shooting Guard In 2021 Class
Jaden Hardy has a bevvy of scholarship offers and his high school coach thinks the junior is the best shooter and offensive player in the 2021 recruiting class. (USA Basketball Photo)
His coach doesn’t want to make Jaden Hardy sound too good to be true but Coronado High School (Nev.) coach Jeff Kaufman can’t help himself.
“He is the best offensive high school player I have certainly seen in the last several years. He’s a phenomenal shooter. No one shoots like him and Kentucky realizes that,” said Kaufman. “He’s the best shooter in the class of 2021, maybe the best overall offensive player in the class. He’s the No. 1 shooting guard but he’s bouncy and gets to the rim.
Kentucky has already extended a scholarship offer to the 6-5, 185-pound junior guard, a consensus top 10 player in the 2021 recruiting class who averaged about 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game as a sophomore. He has a long list of scholarship offers that includes Florida, Texas Tech, LSU, Kansas, Alabama, Memphis, Washington, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, Illinois, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and others.
Kaufman says not to think Hardy can only shoot because he can do a lot more.
“If you are up close to him, he will go by you in a second. He has great leaping ability, he’s fearless and he will attack the rim against anybody,” the Coronado coach said. “He’s really a phenomenal passer. We have a game against Bishop Gorman (one of the nation’s best teams) last year and he had seven straight assists.
“He is long at 6-5. He is in great shape. He’s only a junior but has a great body. He just has to fill out. As he gets bigger and strong his upside really is unlimited. He can do so many things with the basketball. He’s really exciting because he’s also a great defender and really good rebounder. More than anything he wants to win and gets his teammates to want to win and do whatever it takes to do that. There are not a ton of high level players that have spirit about him.”
Hardy shot almost 48 percent from 3-point range last year despite putting up a high volume of shots. Teams often also double teamed him but he not only can split the double team to drive inside, but he’s also able to see the floor to find open teammates.
“When teams double team him the ball is up the floor in two seconds (via passing) or he is going by somebody,” Kaufman said. “He is very, very good at imposing his will on the basketball court and does it much smoother and with much less problem than anybody I have seen recently. We are going to use him a lot more at the 1 (point guard) this year.”
Kaufman says Coronado is a highly ranked academic school with a lot of advance placement classes and normally has the highest ACT and SAT scores in the state.
“I know he’s taking chemistry, world history, honors English right now,” Kaufman said. “Last time I checked he had five A’s and one B. That shows a little bit about his character. He lives for basketball but he does everything he’s supposed to do and does it the right way. His dad and mom are wonderful people and with them it is about his development as a person, not just an athlete. That base has led him to what he is today.”
Hardy knows plenty about Kentucky’s basketball history, one reason he was thrilled to get a Kentucky scholarship offer personally from coach John Calipari even though he has more than 25 scholarship offers.
“Once they (Kentucky) showed an interest in Jaden, that’s an honor for any kid,” Kaufman said. “He is really in awe of the whole history of the program and what it represents. He’s not looking to go there just for six months (and then head to the NBA). He’s very enamored with the fans and mystique at Kentucky.”
* * *
Boyle County head coach Chuck Smith has won six state high school championships and also spent eight years as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky where he coached linebackers such as Wesley Woodyard and Danny Trevathan — who are both still playing in the NFL. One of his former Boyle players, Jacob Tamme, also played at UK and then nine years in the NFL.
Smith has watched Lexington Catholic quarterback Beau Allen play against his team the last three years and likely will see the UK commit in the playoffs again next month. From all he’s seen, Smith likes what the future Wildcat can do.
“I think he is a really good player,” Smith said. “He stays in the pocket and delivers the ball. He’s not afraid to take a hit as he delivers the ball and I really think he has got better every year we have played him. He just really throws a good ball and he’s not afraid to run the ball.
think he has got better every year.”
Allen has thrown for close to 3,000 yards this year and through eight games had 29 touchdown passes to just three interceptions in 258 pass attempts. However, he also ran for nearly 400 yards and nine scores in those eight games, too.
“The fact that he can run the football puts a lot of pressure on the defense and then is pretty accurate throwing makes him really good,” Smith said. “He can scramble out of danger in college. He will not be a running quarterback because they (opposing players) are all fast.
“I do not consider Beau fast or slow. He just has a good feel for the pocket, steps up, moves right or left or does whatever he has to do throw the ball and that will help a lot at the next level. He just knows how to play.”
* * *
Kentucky basketball assistant coach Joel Justus didn’t hold back at the recent Kentucky Women’s Clinic when he talked about the “family” atmosphere that coach John Calipari and his wife create at UK for players and coaches.
“It is fun here. It is Ellen and Cal. We are at their house. The kids are over there. Their dogs are running around,” Justus said.
“It is fun to be here because Coach makes it about players. After (Big Blue) Madness almost everyone’s family was in the gym at practice. Cool to see families happy (getting to watch their sons/family members practice).”
Justus said the way UK recruits factors into the family atmosphere more than most understand.
“It is really not out there how much Coach emphasizes family. It is real here. That starts when we go out and find the right people,” Justus said. “That is something I really feel good about working here. It never feels like work because we love being around each other and we are all able to laugh and smile because of the type of people we have in this program.”
* * *
Kentucky sophomore Rhyne Howard not only was UK’s leading scorer last year but she was also the consensus national freshman of the year. Kentucky sophomore Ashton Hagans was a starter for coach John Calipari as a freshman and the co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
At the UK Women’s Basketball Media Day, I asked Howard if Hagans could guard her and keep her from scoring.
“I would just have an arm bar up because I know he is pretty active. I wouldn’t try to do anything fancy,” Howard said. “I would be able to score on him … easily. Just keep it simple.”
“Yes,” Howard said before adding there was not anyone she didn’t think she could score on.
Junior teammate KeKe McKinney said she was backing Howard “100 percent” in this matchup.
“No. He cannot guard Rhyne,” McKinney said.
Point guard Chasity Patterson, a Texas transfer, believes Howard could score on Hagan, too.
“She would definitely do that and give him a run for his money on anything else,” Patterson said.
But score easily on Hagans?
“I believe it. She could do it,” Patterson said.
McKinney also had no problem with picking Howard as the best basketball player on campus.
“Hands down she’s the best,” McKinney said.
“Yeah, I believe Rhyne is great and can compete against anybody, so yes I think she is the best player on campus,” Patterson said.
* * *
Could Kentucky play a basketball game against Detroit Mercy next year?
Detroit Mercy coach Mike Davis put the odds of UK coming to Detroit for the 2020-21 basketball season at “99.9 percent” during his team’s media day. That’s not exactly a coach making a wild prediction when he obviously is almost positive it will happen which makes sense since UK coach John Calipari’s son, Brad, is now on the Detroit Mercy roster. He transferred this season after spending three years at UK and has two years of eligibility left.
The game could be at Little Caesars Arena— the home of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons — or on campus at Calihan Hall as Davis indicated he would prefer. Calihan Hall is scheduled for a court replacement in the coming year but it would seem a game on a NBA floor would fit John Calipari’s standard operating procedure a lot better even if his son is involved.
Detroit Mercy will play North Carolina State, Clemson, Notre Dame and Gonzaga this season but none of the games are in Detroit. Mercer was 11-20 last year and is ineligible for postseason play this year due to academic issues that did not involve any current coach or player.
Tony Paul of the Detroit Free Press says the staff “really likes his (Brad's) potential and considers him a good second option from 3-point range.”
I also asked Paul if Brad Calipari's arrival had created any kind of buzz for Detroit Mercy basketball.
“Not sure his arrival has done that because the fan base at Detroit Mercer isn't exactly overly passionate,” Paul said.
* * *
Kentucky volleyball had a couple of noteworthy feats recently when senior Leah Edmond became the all-time kills leader and junior libero Gabby Curry went over the 1,000 assists mark.
Edmond has 274 kills this year and 1,761 in her career to take over the top spot from Molly Dresibach, who set the record of 1,737 in 1995.
"It's a special feat to become the all-time kills leader at Kentucky," Kentucky coach Craig Skinner said. "It's a record that stood for 20-plus years and it's amazing for all of us to be a part of."
Edmond, the SEC Player of the Year last season, also has 766 career digs.
Curry, a junior, has had double digit digs in all but one match this season, including a season high 33 against then No. 15 Southern Cal. She now has 1,052 career digs and is only 35 away from already being in the top 10 all-time at UK (the school record in 2,037 set by Jenni Casper). Curry also has 240 assists in her career.
Junior teammate Madison Lilley has increased her career assists total to 3,445 with 778 so far this season. She’s already sixth all-time (Sarah Rumley is the all-time leader with 5,703) and figures to continue to move up the list. She also has 682 career digs.
“I think that our program takes pride in never being content where we are,” Lilley said. “When we are doing individual skill work, it’s to make our team better. It’s less about records, less about rankings and more about how do we feel we can mesh more as a team, work together more, be more physical. That’s why we don’t worry about numbers, just results.”
* * *
Quote of the Week: “They're tired of the acting, tired of the drama. We want to play real basketball. We don't want players to have to embellish or fake in order to get calls. You could flop, get stepped on, get dunked on, and get called for a technical foul. It's a severe penalty to get it out of the game,” Big 12 officiating supervisor Curtis Shaw, a former SEC officials, on flopping.
Quote of the Week 2: “I think this is a team that has tremendous capability to have a special season. We have some versatility, we have some depth, we have some great attitudes working right now,” Kentucky women’s coach Matthew Mitchell on the 2019-20 season.
Quote of the Week 3: “Brad (Calipari) was an example for my son of how you earn respect from teammates with your work ethic and discipline. If he can walk away from this and earn his own place, I am proud,” UK assistant coach Kenny Payne on expectations for his son, Zan, at UK.