North Texas Daily

Freshman shines in spotlight despite small stature

Freshman shines in spotlight despite small stature

January 30
23:48 2013

Ryne Gannoe / Senior Staff Writer

When the Mean Green men’s basketball team lost its starting point guard, sophomore Chris Jones, to injury, freshman guard P.J. Hardwick received the nod from head coach Tony Benford to lead the team’s offense.

Hardwick, UNT’s smallest player, is often referred to as “little man” or “the little pit bull” by his teammates, but he sees being the smallest player on the court as an advantage.

“Basketball is meant for taller people,” Hardwick said. “So being 5 feet 10 inches tall is sort of a disadvantage, but I use it to my advantage. It really drives me to have a lot of edge and a lot of heart. With my speed and quickness, and me being little, I can get under offensive players and defend them really well.”

Benford said a lot of Hardwick’s success comes from his attitude.

“When you’re his size you have to be extremely fast, which he is, and you have to have edge to you, which he has, and you have to have an IQ of how to play and he has those qualities,” Benford said.

P.J.’s father, Patrick Hardwick, said his son is not intimidated by bigger players.

“One thing about P.J., pound-for-pound he’s one of the toughest guards in the country,” Patrick said. “He loves guarding the bigger guards. His first move is so quick. It’s explosive.”

His father said one of his proudest moments was watching his son and the Mean Green play the Creighton Bluejays on Nov. 9.

“I knew one day he was going to play college ball,” he said. “When he came out of the tunnel in a North Texas uniform, I knew he had made it. I never told him this, but it was an emotional day for me. Deep inside I was like, ‘wow.’”

Patrick gives credit to God for P.J.’s success and says his son was first a Christian and then a student athlete.

P.J. was raised to always put school first and his dedication to his academics is evident. Benford said P.J. maintains above a 3.5 GPA. His father said he scored a 28 on his ACT and a 1810 on his SAT.

Though he shows bursts of speed on the hardwood, P.J. said that he likes to take it slower in his day-to-day actions.

“When I’m off the court I’m relaxing, spending time with friends and family and just reading books or anything school related,” he said.

Benford said that P.J. exemplifies the type of player he seeks for his basketball program.

“He’s a great ambassador for us when you bring recruits in, I don’t care who you bring in, you want them to be around P.J.,” Benford said. “He has an outgoing personality. He wants to be a coach. He’s a coach on the floor out there. You can see him out there getting those guys together.”

P.J. referred to everyone at UNT as part of his family, especially junior guard Alzee Williams and senior forward Justin Patton, who he has becom especially close with in his first year with the team.

“They are like big brothers to me,” P.J. said. “They give me pointers on school and basketball. They just try to look after me and lead me down a positive road.”

Alzee Williams said he isn’t surprised that P.J. is adapting well to his new role.

“He just stepped in,” Williams said. “It’s tough because he’s a freshman coming in, but he’s running the team really well right now.”

P.J. is likely to get his ninth start of the season tonight when the Mean Green squares off with the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns at 7 p.m.

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