OAKLAND, Calif. — On the court, Elijah Hardy did whatever was needed to win basketball games.
That’s what Lou Richie remembers.
“He would have games like 5 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists,” the Bishop O’Dowd boys basketball coach said. “Or 30 points, 5 assists and 15 rebounds.
“Just freakish. At 6-1, he was our leading rebounder his senior year. That’s why we couldn’t take him off the floor. It didn’t have anything to do with his shooting or his passing or his defense. It was his rebounding.”
Two years ago, Hardy, a four-star recruit with offers from USC and Nevada, was considered the next great Oakland point guard in a long and storied list that includes Damian Lilliard, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Brian Shaw.
These days, the Washington Huskies are wondering if their sparsely used sophomore reserve can adequately replace Quade Green, who is academically ineligible and will miss remainder of the regular season and the Pac-12 tournament.
“It’s going to be a learning curve for him, but if you’re asking me if the moment is going to be too big for him I would say no,” Richie said. “As a freshman, he played the most minutes on a team that won the state championship and finished No. 2 in the country.
“Dowd is the winningest program in the state over the last 65 years. Think of Garfield up there in Seattle. There’s been some legendary high-school players who played here. And Elijah is one of them.”
Richie won’t soon forget Hardy’s triple-double — 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — when O’Dowd beat Las Lomas 65-58 at Saint Mary’s College to win the North Coast Section Division II championship on March 3, 2018.
It was arguably the crowning achievement in Hardy’s career and the last time he played a significant role on a team.
Last season, Hardy was mostly a spectator on Washington’s team that won the Pac-12 regular-season title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
Before Thursday, Hardy averaged just 0.8 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 8.0 minutes before he was promoted to the starting lineup.
“My role is to encourage my teammates and bring energy when it’s needed and fill any holes,” Hardy said this week. “Whether it’s rebound or clap for my teammates or run the offense. I’m just doing anything I can to help us win and succeed.”
Hardy finished with just two points, three assists, three steals and one rebound, which offset three turnovers while playing a career-high 31 minutes in Thursday’s 61-55 loss at Stanford.
No one expected Hardy to produce like Green, who was averaging 11.6 points, 5.2 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals while shooting 51.4% from the floor and 44.7% on three-pointers.
However, UW coach Mike Hopkins, who is an eternal optimistic, gave a measured assessment of Hardy’s 1-for-7 shooting performance, which included 0 for 4 on three-pointers.
“He has to keep getting us in our offense and being a leader on the court,” Hopkins said. “Being a great defensive player. And if it’s at the end of the shot clock, then try to make a play. Not early in the shot clock.”
Hardy is expected to make his second start Saturday afternoon when Washington (11-5, 1-2 Pac-12) finishes its first conference road trip at California (7-8, 1-1).
It’s a meaningful game for Hardy, who faces his former Bishop O’Dowd teammate Paris Austin in front of a Haas Pavilion crowd that’ll include 30 or so family and friends.
“I just love the atmosphere of the Bay Area and playing here,” Hardy said. “There’s no extra pressure at all. If anything I feel more comfortable just because I got my people around me that love and support me.”
Count Richie to that group.
“Anytime you coach someone you ask yourself did I do too much or did I not do enough?” he said. “Have I said the right things to prepare them for what they’ll face not just on the court, but in life.”
Richie said Hardy is an elite playmaker with uncanny vision but advises him to “avoid the home-run play and just run the team.”
“But I’ll let his coaches do the coaching now,” Richie said. “When we talk, we never talk about basketball. I’m more concerned about him getting his degree, becoming a great man, a husband, a father or a CEO of a company.
“Those are the things that really matter to me. … But yeah, I’m glad that he has an opportunity to play some more minutes so he can find out who he is as a basketball player.”