STEVENS: UNM's Hardeman Hasn't Look Much Like A Sophomore
Dec. 11, 2009
Saturday: Lobos vs. Texas A&M, 4 p.m. in Houston
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
You have to figure that since the Texas A&M Aggies are ranked that Saturday's game in Houston not only is the Lobos' toughest challenge of the season so far, but also will be the meanest test so far for UNM's A.J. Hardeman.
It's usually a difficult thing to charge into the nation's Top 20 if you aren't doing good things inside and the big Aggie inside is 6-foot-9 Bryan Davis.
Oh, Davis probably won't crack any All-American lists this season, but he's the real deal inside when it comes to throwing around his 250-pound frame and trying to intimidate activity in the lane.
And he'll be a challenge to Hardeman.
The good thing for the Lobos concerning Hardeman is that the 6-8 sophomore hasn't looked much like a second-year D-I player. He's made a push from the Hardeman we saw in 2008-09 and the push has made the Lobos better.
"As much as anybody, what A.J. has been doing for us inside has led us to our success," said Lobo coach Steve Alford. "His play inside is a big part of us. He's had a great start to his sophomore year."
If you want to go back one Lobo center in time and compare Hardeman to Daniel Faris, the comparison is a fair one. Faris came to UNM out of Albuquerque's Eldorado High and was expected at some point to become a power forward.
Faris was mobile. Faris had a nice shot. The 6-9 Faris wasn't the pure, big-body center that teams like to toss under the glass. However, his fire and his refined post moves allowed him to be successful in the paint.
Hardeman has similar tools. He is a lean 6-8. He is mobile. He has a nice shot. Faris never made the move to power forward because, for a variety of reasons, UNM never came up with a true center. Hardeman is in that same position for 2009-10.
"We don't always pay that much attention to positions when we recruit," said Alford. "We want a player, an athlete. A.J. is a player.
"His natural position, because of his body, is forward. That was true for Daniel, too. If we go three guards and have another big post inside, A.J. is a forward. Right now, when we go four guards, he's a post."
Which is just fine for Hardeman. He says what he wants most is to be on the floor and contribute in any and all ways possible to make the Lobos better. He's been outstanding through nine games. He averages 8.2 points and 7.1 rebounds.
To put Hardeman's young sophomore season into quick perspective (with a lot of games to go), here are Faris' stats his sophomore year: 4.8 points per game, 3.4 rebounds. Hardeman is above that pace. Faris shot 49 percent from the floor. Hardeman is at 54 percent.
The Mountain West wars will force all Lobos to elevate their play. Alford said one reason Hardeman is being successful out of the gates this season is because Hardeman already elevated his play from 2008-09.
"He went from someone who had a low motor to someone who is playing with a high motor," said Alford. "He is playing with a sense of urgency. We didn't see that as much last year. He is going through a maturation process and there has been a jump in his maturity. He is doing everything we ask him to do."
In a nutshell, what Hardeman is being asked to do is play solid defense, hit the boards with a passion, and toss in a few points now and then. The Lobos don`t exactly look to Hardeman as a go-to player, but they do expect him to use his athletic ability and his quickness to generate some inside offense.
So, would Hardeman mind moving to a forward spot at some time during his UNM career?
"In high school, I played center, so I expected to be in that spot here," he said. "But I'm not real big, kind of skinny and not a real banger. I'm having a lot of fun out there as center, but I would like to move to forward at some point. That's probably my true position."
"I think I've surprised some people this year, but the key is to keep working and keep getting better."
That improvement thing should be a key against Texas A&M, too. The Lobos have played well, but likely have to elevate their game to another level to beat the No. 16 team in the nation.
The Aggies are good. They have two outstanding senior guards in Donald Sloan (16.1 ppg) and Derrick Roland (12.6).
And they have that big 6-9 guy inside named Davis which brings up another key for the game: Hardeman vs. Davis. 225 pounds vs. 250 pounds. Sophomore vs. senior. Watch the battle. It should be a good one.