After losing a decorated senior class that took them to the NCAA Tournament two years in a row, the Montana Grizzlies are trying to reload with experience.
The Griz picked up a grad transfer commitment from BYU guard Jahshire Hardnett on May 2, as first reported by Jeff Goodman of Stadium.
“I’m just ready to get [to Missoula],” Hardnett said. “I’m very excited to be able to come in, have that new energy with a new coaching staff and just a new group of guys and just see where that goes.”
Hardnett averaged 7.4 points per game over 55 career games with BYU, including 9.7 last year as a junior, but fell out of favor with the Cougars’ coaching staff, injured his hand, and was dropped from the rotation late in the year.
He announced his intention to transfer from BYU on March 11.
A point guard, Hardnett has a quick first step that helps him get to the rim and is also regarded as a good on-ball defender. He struggled shooting the ball last year, posting a 22.2 percent mark from 3-point range on just over two attempts per game.
“All summer and till I get to Montana, until the season starts, I can get a lot of reps on shooting, that’s probably the main thing,” Hardnett said. “I feel like I can score at the rim with ease, and I can defend, so just me knocking down more shots and being more consistent at the free-throw line is pretty much all I’m working on right now.”
Hardnett be expected to pick up some of the minutes and production that Montana lost with the departures of senior guards Ahmaad Rorie and Michael Oguine, two of the most decorated players in program history.
As it stands now, Hardnett will join a guard rotation that returns only one primary ball handler who saw any meaningful action last year: junior Timmy Falls.
Senior Kendal Manuel is the other experienced returner at guard, although he works better off the ball, while youngsters Freddy Brown III and Eddy Egun will also hope to join the rotation after playing sparingly last year or, in Egun’s case, redshirting.
“That was kind of the main thing, being able to just step right in and play minutes, because I know they lost a good senior class,” Hardnett said. “So bringing someone in just to handle the situation like they did and bring what they brought to the table was kind of the main thing for me coming in.”
Hardnett’s senior year will be the end of a long basketball journey for Hardnett, who won a state title his junior year at Gulfport High School in Mississippi before transferring to Arlington Day School in Jacksonville for his senior year.
He then redshirted for a year at Fordham before going back to Florida to play a year for JUCO Chipola College, where he was Panhandle Conference Freshman of the Year.
That brought him to BYU, where he averaged 6.0 points per game as a sophomore in 2017-2018 as the Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament.
As a junior, however, dissatisfaction with his role led to tensions with the coaching staff. Hardnett was removed from the starting lineup at the end of December. After reportedly quitting the team in early January after arguing with the coaching staff in a game against St. Mary’s, he returned a few days later but played sparingly down the stretch while dealing with his hand injury.
“That was kind of a bad thing, we were trying to figure each other out, and my recruiter [Heath Schroyer] got a head job at McNeese State, so I was left with a coaching staff that didn’t fully recruit me coming in, that didn’t know anything about me, so it was kind of hard trying to figure each other out,” Hardnett said.
Hardnett said that assistant Chris Cobb was the first Montana coach to reach out, and he was intrigued by the opportunity to play big minutes, as well as the Grizzlies’ recent success.
“I saw them in the tournament,” Hardnett said. “I knew they were playing Michigan and I knew last year that they played Michigan. I didn’t know too much about the university, but I kind of knew that it was a tournament team, and that also stood out to me. I want to be in the tournament.”
A self-described gym junkie, Hardnett said that he will be moving to Missoula soon to register for summer classes and start working out.
“Now that it’s over and done with, I’m able to just lock in on what I’m supposed to be doing now,” Hardnett said.