Scoring in bunches, SJU’s Hardy impresses

Hardy has been given the nickname

Dwight Hardy doesn’t take much from his exploits on the hardtop, other than the enjoyment he gets from stiff competition and pleasure he derives from watching his long, feathery jump shots softly tickle twine.

Yet, the Bronx native and former John F. Kennedy star said there was something meaningful about his jaw-dropping performance Sunday afternoon at Orchard Beach. It wasn’t the nine 3-pointers he sank or the 49 points he scored.

It wasn’t that the thrilling display came in the Hoops in the Sun All-Star game. Or even the 3-pointer he drained with a hand in his face to force overtime.

It had to do with the guy on the other team: Jessie Sapp, the former Georgetown standout representing Together We Chill, a Spanish Harlem-based league.

“I’ve seen him play a lot of good players in the Big East,” said Hardy, the 6-foot-2 St. John’s recruit. “I took it as a challenge, just to see where I’m at mentally and physically.”

There has been little to complain about this summer. Hardy has made a name for himself as a prolific scorer across the city’s many streetball leagues. He has averaged 34.6 points per game at Hoops in the Sun, twice scoring more than 50 points and earning the nickname “The Baddest Man on the Planet.”

It was easy to see why Sunday. He basically carried HITS out of a 20-point, first-half deficit, resuscitating the home stars with a series of jumpers and fearless drives to the basket. He waged a war with Sapp in the second half, with each looking to outdo the other every time down court.

Hardy had the final answer – first with the 3-pointer that forced overtime and 12 more points in the extra session, almost all of them under duress.

“You can’t sleep on him,” Sapp said.

Of course, Hardy always could score, all the way back to his days at Kennedy. As a junior, he led the Knights to the city championship, the last team other than Lincoln to win it all.

It wasn’t just his shooting touch that endearing Hardy to the Knights’ coaching staff, assistant Starr Jones said. He would do whatever was necessary to win, whether it was grabbing rebounds or playing lockdown defense. He was a tireless worker, always arriving early for practice and leaving late.

“You could see his determination,” Jones said.

Hardy had plenty of Division I schools after him; he didn’t have the grades nor the qualifying SAT score after a year at The Patterson School (N.C.).

So, he left for Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. Last winter, Hardy guided the junior college to a 30-3 record while averaging 18.9 points per game, developing into an even more polished scorer.

“He improved in everything,” said former Wings star Rasheem Jenkins, who plays with Hardy at HITS and will attend Florida A&M in September.

Hardy said he matured the two years at Indian Hills, growing as much as a person as a basketball player. He learned to manage his time better and interact with people.

“Coming from high school, you want to play around all day,” Hardy said. “College is very serious. You have to grow up.”

Jones still sees the same Hardy, the kid who would put up 40 points and talk about the shots he missed or a missed defensive assignment.

“He’s the same humble person I met five years ago,” Jones said.

He committed to St. John’s last November. It didn’t come as much of a surprise to those who knew Hardy. While at Kennedy, he always talked about the Red Storm. While other locals spurned the Jamaica, Queens school, he yearned to be part of it.

“I know they have the history of being a pretty good team, I know I can bring a lot of things to the table to make them a winning program,” he said. “I love playing in New York City, that was the main reason I chose St. John’s.”

Hardy caught several St. John’s games last year, and left impressed by the talent level, if not the results. The Red Storm finished 16-18 last year and were invited to the 16-team College Basketball Invitational, the program’s first postseason tournament in six years, but lacked the consistent perimeter threat that could stretch defenses. That is where Hardy fits in.

“I think I’m one of the pieces they were missing,” he said.

Hardy isn’t the only one.

“He’s going to make it easier for their big men,” said Sapp, who obviously knows a thing or two about the Big East.

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