The little things Joliet West’s big man is doing are starting to add up.
Senior Andre Hardy scored six points and hauled down five rebounds in Joliet West’s 63-55 boys basketball victory over cross-town rival Joliet Central.
He also used his 6-foot-7 frame to clog the middle on defense, block or alter several Joliet Central shot attempts and to set screens on the other end of the floor. In effect, he has become the lead blocker for teammate Morris Dunnigan.
Joliet West coach Luke Yaklich elects on occasion to pull Dunnigan out away from the basket, put the ball in his hands and let him create offense off the dribble. Hardy is his personal escort, his screens paving the way for Dunnigan to make his moves.
Dunnigan, a 6-2 senior guard/forward who is headed to Vincennes, is the Tigers’ top scorer and, arguably, the top high school player to come out of Joliet since Roger Powell played for the Steelmen in the days of a two-school, one-program JT athletic department. Powell went on to play on the Flyin’ Illini team that reached the Final Four.
Who knows where Hardy will end up or how long basketball will be a part of his future. He starts some games, comes off the bench in others. At times, he goes unnoticed. Too bad.
He does a number of the little things to help Joliet West succeed. The Tigers carry a 15-6 overall record and 8-3 mark in the Southwest Suburban Blue Conference into their game Friday night at Bolingbrook.
Hardy gets credit for helping carve that record out against a loaded schedule. He scored on a short jumper to give Joliet West a 17-10 lead over Joliet Central at the end of one quarter in last week’s game at JT Central.
A few minutes later, he added a couple of free throws to help the Tigers stretch that margin to 26-12. Then, after the final horn sounded, he earned praise from Yaklich.
“Andre Hardy, I thought, played his best game of the year,” Yaklich said. “Very consistent and really held the fort down in the middle when they had some open shots. So, I was really impressed with Andre.”
If you were to suggest it looks like Hardy is still a work in progress, you would get no argument from Yaklich. Hardy’s shooting touch is soft when he is free to pop from 10-15 feet, more awkward when he is banging with the big boys in the paint.
There is a good explanation for his bull-in-a-china shop routine. He is still going through the growing pains of a relative basketball newcomer. And even Michael Jordan was considered a little rough around the edges coming out of high school.
“He’s come a long way,” Dunnigan said of Hardy. “He never played organized basketball until, what, his sophomore year? He did what he had to do (against Joliet Central). He clogged the middle, blocked a couple shots here and there, got a couple rebounds. That’s all we really need out of him.”
Dunnigan has come to appreciate the hard screens Hardy sets to free him for drives to the rim. Joliet West guards Carl Terrell and Ryan Modiest also have benefited from the gift of space to move around the defense, the gift of Hardy’s presence.
“Coach ‘Yak’ has worked with him a lot,” Dunnigan said. “He gets on him a lot, too.”
Yaklich is a tough-love kind of coach. He pushes all his players to the limit—the goal for them to reach their potential, fulfill their dreams. And now is the time of year when basketball players around the state begin to dream big.
The IHSA playoffs are approaching. Dunnigan is the lone holdover from the last JT team to play in the supersectionals at Illinois State University’s Redbird Arena in 2009-10.
“When we talked about Redbird at our team meeting last week, Morris’ eyes lit up and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s something special,’ ” Yaklich said. “He understands what it takes to get there and that feeling of having a whole town behind you and going down there and playing on the big stage.
“It’s every kid’s dream, not only in this (Thornton) sectional, but throughout the state. But we’ve got to take care of business one week at a time. We’re going to focus on Bolingbrook and use that to get better.”
For Hardy, that means taking two more steps forward for every one that he slips back. The big guy is learning to do all the little things for the Tigers.
One day soon he could be known as Andre the Giant.