The debate for the best African player ever seems to have no clear answer. Some go for vibes over substance, others go strictly trophies, others go individual accomplishments, but all in all, the debate continues. I am not interested in any of that; I am here to tell you definitively who the best African soccer player ever is. Before I...
Jerrick Harding's Rise and the Power of Consistency
There is something special about consistency: it is a fleeting trait that every athlete strives to achieve. If you're familiar with the name Jerrick Harding, then you know consistent is one of the many adjectives that describe one of the greatest basketball players to have come out of Wichita, Kansas.
Holding the career scoring record at the high school and collegiate level is a rare feat reserved for the best of the best. However, things were not always so simple. Long before breaking the scoring record in high school and college, Jerrick Harding was a hidden secret.
Overlooked in high school, and underrated as a recruit, Jerrick turned the disrespect into fuel for motivation.
An obsession that started at just two-years-old, Jerrick quickly developed a passion for the game. The son of two college basketball players, he was raised in a basketball household. Basketball was always the goal, a brief experiment with football in the 4th grade and a week of high school football did little to deter Harding's love for the game.
In soccer, the jersey number 10 is the most important, meant to recognize the best player on the team, the star. Harding doesn't wear the number 10 for any particular reason, but the number 10 couldn't be more fitting for a guy who has been his team's star every step of the way.
In this day and age, with the prevalence of various social media platforms, it is hard to keep an elite athlete a secret, but that is precisely what Jerrick Harding was - a secret. Coming into high school, with no AAU games to scout, Harding's open gym performances was the first look teammates got of the 14-year-old soon to be a star. The incoming freshman entered high school with no hype at all. That would quickly change.
The first glimpse the city got of what Harding would become was on January 19, 2013. The scrawny, previously unknown freshman, exploded for 38 points against arch-rivals East High, setting off a string of tweets about the random freshman who had lit the gym up. It had been a long time since the league had seen that type of dominance from a freshman, let alone against one of the best schools in the state.
That freshman season served as a warning for the rest of the state, and what followed was nothing short of dominance.
Seeking more exposure and better competition, Harding would start AAU basketball at 16U, much later than most players start AAU basketball. The delay was purposeful because his father, Eric Harding, didn't trust the AAU system in its style of play and the exploitation of young athletes.
However, Harding and his family found high school basketball may have been too easy, so AAU basketball was the next call. It offered greater exposure, and an opportunity to later compete against the likes of future NBA All-Stars, Jayson Tatum, Brandon Ingram, and Trae Young, further proving that he could compete with the best in the country.
Jerrick's career so far has been about coming full circle. So, senior year with everyone watching, it was only fitting that on February 2nd of 2016, in his last game against arch-rivals East highschool, he exploded for 38 points, just as he did as an unknown freshman three years prior.
Harding would finish his high school career with three straight scoring championships, recognition as Southeast high school's all-time leading scorer, and a state tournament run that goes down as the most dominant in 6A history. 42 Points in the Quarterfinals, 39 in the Semifinals, and 21 in the Championship game were enough to break a 37-year-old scoring record.
That capped off a senior season at 27.8 points a game, up from 24.8 a game the year before, and 18 a game as a sophomore.
Recognition as the Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year followed, a prestigious award reserved for the best high school basketball player in each state. But that still wasn't enough to garner the attention of college coaches in the area.
The best high school basketball player in the state, finishing his career on a record-breaking run, and still, no scholarship offers. Wichita State University, Kansas State University, and Kansas University all passed on Jerrick Harding.
Rather than pout on been overlooked yet again, Harding got to work, determined to prove college coaches wrong. A wild thought for a player that so far had more than proved his worth at every level.
Weber State came calling, and the school that sent Damian Lillard to the NBA looked like the best chance for player development. College basketball would be a tough adjustment, but Jerrick was ready to make the most of any opportunity.
So, when the coaching staff came early freshman year asking him to consider a redshirt season, he didn't view that as an option. Two DNPs and less than 10 minutes over the first six games looked like a redshirt season may have been the right call.
But the same kid who balled out in those open gyms as a freshman in high school knew he had what it took to do the same at the collegiate level. The way Jerrick sees it, basketball is just a game, the key is to go out and have fun no matter the occasion. That kind of confidence is the secret to Harding's success. So, when he finished out his freshman season as a starter with seven straight double-digit scoring games, he wasn't surprised. He saw it no different from growing up playing basketball in the driveway.
Harding went from 9.3 points a game as a freshman to 22 points a game over the next three seasons. This last season, as a senior, Jerrick averaged 22.2 points a game, ranking as the 7th top scorer in all of NCAA Division 1 basketball. It wouldn't be hyperbolic to say Harding exceeded all expectations.
Harding leaves Weber State just as he left Southeast, the program's greatest-ever scorer.
On March 3rd of 2018, he broke a 41 year Weber State single-game scoring record with 46 points against Montana State.
Less than two years later, on February 6th of 2020, he broke the Weber State career scoring record. Never one to do it the dull way, Harding broke the record with a 44 point outburst against Sacramento State.
These records are just a small part of what made the university a special place for Jerrick. Weber State holds a special place in his heart. Two thousand miles away from home, the university brought maturity, stability, relationships, and lessons that will last a lifetime.
Each step of the way, Harding credits his mentors for their role in helping him overcome all obstacles. His father, Coach Melvin Herring, Coach Chaz Baldon, and Weber State legend/NBA All-Star Damian Lillard are just a few of the mentors he credits for his success. Along with that, his mom, sister, friends, and family have been vital in the belief and confidence they gave him from day one.
With his time at Weber State complete, Jerrick is ready to take the next steps. One of the best scorers in all of college basketball, Jerrick, is set for a future in professional basketball. Even with the Covid-19 outbreak, he remains confident of the future once normal basketball operations resume. But for now, no NBA workouts, no team meetings, just basketball in those same Wichita driveways that crafted his game.
Jerrick's love for his hometown goes without saying. He credits Wichita for crafting his fearless playing style. His neighborhood, the city, and everything about Wichita taught him to never back down from anyone. Show no fear. It's why he has Wichita's area code, 316, tattooed on his chest, a permanent reminder of the city that started it all.
There's no telling what's next, but what every coach mentions is Jerrick's work ethic. It's that work ethic that has helped him beat all the odds so far. It's that same work ethic that guarantees he's got a great future ahead of him.
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