Sports

Hardy latest 5-star prospect to opt for G League

Jaden Hardy, the nation’s top uncommitted prospect, said Saturday he plans to play professionally with the G League Ignite team instead of heading to college in the fall.

Most schools had slowed their recruitment of Hardy in recent months after it became clear he was likely to go pro. Earlier in his recruitment, the likes of Kentucky, UCLA, Michigan, Oregon and Arizona had all been involved.

“I gave it a lot of thought,” Hardy told ESPN. “I always wanted to go to college, but I wanted to look at the G League. The more I could not make official visits or meet with coaches and players, it made my decision easier. I never got to interact with anyone on campuses or see things first-hand.”

Hardy is the third notable player in the 2021 class to sign with the G League Ignite team, following No. 7-ranked prospect Michael Foster and one-time Gonzaga commit Fanbo Zeng. The new pathway began last spring, when four five-star prospects opted to go that route: Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix.

“I always dreamed about playing in the NBA, and this will prepare me for it,” Hardy said. “Playing with and against pros and learning from pro coaches will be a great experience.”

A 6-foot-4 shooting guard who attended Coronado High School (Nevada), Hardy is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 100 for the class of 2021 and projected as the No. 3 pick in ESPN’s latest 2022 mock draft. He’s considered the best scorer in high school basketball.

Hardy makes the game look easy on the offensive end of the floor. He scores equally well on or off the ball, and has developed the ability to navigate in ball screens as a legitimate scoring threat or a trusted facilitator. Over the past year, he has developed into a consistent shot-maker and added NBA range to his offensive arsenal, with a skill set that already included a highly productive midrange game and terrific finishing ability. He needs to improve on the defensive end, but his footwork, body control, balance and elevation to make tough shots is his separating quality offensively.

One popular comparison is Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal.

Hardy said he worked out during the pandemic with NBA players James Harden, LaMelo Ball and Trae Young.

“I am trying to get where they are,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do, but I held my own against them.”

With fellow five-star guard Nolan Hickman committing to Gonzaga earlier Saturday, there are now zero five-star prospects still available in 2021.

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