BERKELEY -- Coming off a California Open Division title last season, Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd was losing a lot, in seniors Isaiah Thomas, Ivan Rabb and Paris Austin. There was going to be some drop-off. This season, the Dragons are 6-8 overall (after the program's first ever loss to Piedmont on Thursday), and lost on Monday to St. Francis, 66-54. Like his team, 2018 point guard Elijah Hardy is very much a work in progress.
"It's not a tough year, because we're a Division III team, so we still should have a good chance," said Dragons head coach Lou Richie. "The first half [against St. Francis], we had seven turnovers. Elijah and Naseem [Gaskin], that's the thing, with them having to play so many minutes -- they start to make the careless turnovers, and finished with 11 turnovers, between the two of them ... We'll see how we do in league, but I think next year, we'll probably be an Open team."
One of the biggest drawbacks on Hardy, at the moment, and one that has to be fixed before O'Dowd can compete for the Open Division, is the turnovers, but he does have a high ceiling, and offers from Cal, New Mexico State, Cal Poly-SLO, Nevada and Montana.
"I only did one visit, with Naseem, and that was to Nevada," Hardy said, of a summer trip to Reno. He's also been to Berkeley multiple times.
Hardy has the basketball IQ, the court vision and the right instincts -- when to drive, when to dish, when to pull up -- but, while he's a willing and proficient passer, his game has holes. One of those holes was on display on Monday, when he turned the ball over six times (two in the span of a minute, right at the two-minute mark of the game film). O'Dowd, as a whole, turned the ball over 23 times. They're young, Richie said, but they're getting there.
The bottom line with Hardy is this: If he can get his shots to drop, he's going to be a very, very dangerous player. Early in his career, he couldn't get to the rim, and now he can. He's missing those bunny shots at the rim because he's never had occasion to, until now. He's developed plus leaping ability, and despite his slight size, is not afraid to put his nose into the much and will his way to the basket in traffic in the low post. Against St. Francis, Hardy went 7-of-16 from the floor, with seven rebounds, all at 6-foot, and a generous 160 pounds.
"It gets frustrating, but that's a part of the game," Hardy said. "The frustration makes you get better. That puts me in the gym tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day."
He's shooting 34% from the floor this season, and he knows that the simplest of tasks in the game of basketball -- getting the ball through the bucket -- is a weak spot in his game.
"He takes really tough shots, and he's having a hard time making lay-ups," Richie said. "But, looking at his progression, a year ago, he couldn't even get to the rim. He had these crazy handles, and he's a great passer, but we don't need the home run. We're very happy with his progression. As a junior, as a senior, he's going to be a big, strong, 6-foot-2 point guard, and he's going to be very, very seasoned."
Hardy got his shot at the end of last season, when Austin went down with injury for several games, but he's now the man in the middle for the Dragons.
"I'm getting a lot more experience this year," Hardy said. "I'm playing a lot more. I'm trying to run the team. We all, as a group, as a team, are trying to get better, for next year, for the future."
That said, there are other parts of his game that are so strong that, at this point, he projects so highly that the shooting woes haven't deterred high major schools from offering, including California, where the annual MLK Classic was held on Monday, and which features Rabb as one of its starting five.
Watching Hardy is, at times, maddening, because it's easy to see his court awareness, to see him making the right decisions with the ball, only to see little to no results -- the Dragons shot 20-of-51 from the floor, and 1-of-8 from three.
Two of those three-pointers, in the first quarter, would, with better shooting, have been easy assists for Hardy, who finished the game with zero -- not a good look for a point guard, especially combined with the turnovers.
Hardy shows the vision to find open shooters in the corners, and if a few of those open looks dropped, at least on Monday, the Dragons may have well come out on top. While Hardy can get into the lane and drive, his free throw percentage isn't much to write home about. He was 0-for-2 on Monday (after a very good coast-to-coast run to draw a foul at 2:23 in the film above).
Now, when it comes to scoring in the paint, and producing points from baseline drives, a lot of that is going to come with size and strength. Hardy is not strong enough at this point to push the ball up through hands, though again, he shows the right instincts. He's not a good finisher yet, because he's slender, but he will be. With about 15 more pounds, and maybe two more inches -- and he has plenty of time to grow -- those no-fouls and rejections are going to turn into trips to the free throw line, and baskets. He still has to work on his stroke at the line -- he's hitting just 51% from the charity stripe -- and shooting less, later in the clock, and choosing better shots, instead of hoisting up threes -- he's hitting 25% from beyond the arc.
Richie wants Hardy to have more assists than shots, and on Thursday, he had seven shots to six assists, so he's getting closer. He already averages 4.3 assists per game, to lead the team, and despite his size, he's the Dragons' leading rebounder with 6.0 boards per game.