Provo • One word immediately came to his mind when Jahshire Hardnett’s junior college coach in Florida told him BYU was interested in talking to him about possibly transferring there to play Division I basketball.
“Jimmer,” he said. “That’s Jimmer’s school. Everybody has heard about [former BYU star Jimmer Fredette]. I remember the tournament run he had. So that’s why I had some interest. Prior to that I didn’t know anything about them.”
The next time Hardnett was back home in Gulfport, Miss., he sat down with the single mother, Monique Phillips, who had raised him and his three siblings and did some research on this “Mormon school in the mountains” that for some reason had taken a liking to the 6-foot point guard’s game at Chipola College in Marianna, Fla.
“We just looked at what coach [Dave] Rose has done, what Heath [Schroyer] has done, what the program has been through and accomplished,” he said. “We were interested.”
Having began his college career at Fordham, a Jesuit university in The Bronx, N.Y., Hardnett and his mother initially figured BYU was “just another regular church college,” not much different than where he redshirted due to injury his freshman season.
“I was wrong about that,” he said with a laugh. “Them being so serious about the religion, the [LDS] church, caught me off guard on my first visit. Fordham wasn’t that churchy, wasn’t that spiritual. But here, everything revolves around the church.”
For instance, every class at BYU begins with a prayer.
“I look up at the [professor], thinking, ‘Please don’t call my name,’” Hardnett said. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”
Fortunately, Hardnett’s name never has been called in class. But it has been called plenty of times by Rose, who inserted the lefty into his starting lineup for the fourth game of the season. Rose has stuck with Hardnett to direct an offense that took a serious blow when would-be starting point guard Nick Emery withdrew from school a day before the opener after the school acknowledged it had turned over to the NCAA the results of its investigation into Emery possibly receiving improper benefits from a BYU booster.
Meanwhile, Hardnett is doing his best to fill in for Emery, who has said he plans to return to the team next year. Hardnett is averaging 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists while playing 26 minutes per game.
“I haven’t reached my peak this season yet,” said Hardnett, who doesn’t lack self-confidence. “I am playing fairly well, but not well enough because we’ve lost four games. I really don’t have a [memorable] performance, not just yet. But it is coming.”
Around the time that BYU signed Hardnett last May, it also hired Schroyer to replace Terry Nashif.
“I was really involved” in Hardnett’s recruitment, Schroyer said Wednesday. “When I talked to [Rose] in May, I asked him about recruiting, and he talked about bringing a change-of-pace point guard into the lineup. I knew about Jahshire from just watching him in jamborees and things like that on the road, and then he played for a really good friend of mine down at Chipola, Bret Campbell. So one thing led to another and I called Bret and got ahold of Jahshire, and that’s really how it happened.”
Hardnett said that assistant coaches Tim LaComb and Quincy Lewis also were involved heavily, and Lewis attended a junior college showcase last spring that showed him BYU was serious about him.
“Loyalty is important in my family,” he said. “BYU showed they really cared.”
Hardnett described his upbringing as “definitely a struggle” but credits his mother for producing four high school graduates — “that doesn’t happen a lot where I’m from” — and working several jobs to make it work.
“I grew up in a tough neighborhood, a tough environment,” he said. “So playing basketball kept me away from the bad distractions that were going on. My mom kept us all in basketball, every one of us. I had friends getting in trouble all the time, but basketball and my mom helped me stay away from that.”
Another juco transfer with whom Hardnett was starting to bond, Kajon Brown, left the team during the Christmas break to be closer to his ailing grandmother, but Hardnett said his roommates — Payton Dastrup and Zac Seljaas — have been there to provide support and help in the acclimation process.
As for the honor code at BYU, Hardnett said it hasn’t been a problem for him because he’s focused on his schoolwork and improving on the basketball court.
“I have adapted,” he said. “I signed the paper. I have no choice but to adapt to it. It is a little cold here, but other than that, I am fine.”
Provo and BYU are a lot different than Mississippi, Fordham and the Florida panhandle, Hardnett acknowledges, but he shrugs off suggestions that he experienced culture shock when he arrived at BYU last summer.
“I have been around. I’ve been to prep school in Florida, a school in New York, then back to a school in Florida,” he said. “I am just ready for whatever comes my way.”
Just not a prayer opportunity before class.
• Prepped at Gulfport High in Gulfport, Miss., and Arlington Day School in Jacksonville, Fla.
• Began his college basketball career at Fordham before transferring to Chipola College in the Florida panhandle.
• Has started in 15 of BYU’s 18 games and is averaging 5.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.0 minutes per game.
BYU AT SANTA CLARA
Where • At the Leavey Center, Santa Clara, Calif.
Tipoff • 8 p.m. MT Saturday
TV • BYUtv
Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM, Sirius XM 143
Records • BYU 14-4, 3-2 WCC; Santa Clara 6-11, 3-2 WCC
Series history • BYU leads 28-6
Last meeting • Santa Clara won 76-68 (Jan. 26, 2017)
About the Cougars • Elijah Bryant (17.9 ppg) took over the team scoring lead from Yoeli Childs (17.7 ppg) with his 25-point performance in Thursday’s 83-63 win over Pepperdine. … They are 13-1 against the Broncos in WCC games but were upset at Leavey Center last year. … Zac Seljaas got his fifth start of the season but first since Nov. 21 against the Waves.
About the Broncos • They are coming off an 81-57 loss to Saint Mary’s. … Coach Herb Sendek is 23-27 in his second year but has been a coach for 24 years. … Four players average in double-digits, led by KJ Feagin at 17.8 ppg. and Henry Caruso at 12.6 ppg. … They are shooting 43 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range.