Technically, John Hardin is the first “big man on campus” at William Peace University, though he won’t enroll until the fall.
Hardin, a six-foot Green Hope senior, became the first men’s basketball recruit at the longtime all-women’s school when he submitted his letter-of-intent last month. Next fall, the university formerly known as Peace College will welcome male students, becoming a coeducational school for the first time in its 154-year history.
Peace’s decision, announced last July, was based on financial concerns and greeted with opposition from current students, faculty and alumni. But Hardin, who became the program’s historic first recruit on March 14, said he felt welcomed when taking the campus tour that sold him on the school. And he understands where those on both sides of the debate stand.
“Hopefully we don’t take away from the tradition of the school, because we’re just helping out,” Hardin said. “Some of the women at first weren’t on board with the guys coming. But we got to talk to some of the teachers and staff, and they’re excited for us to get in there and help out with the programs and everything.”
Six other players have since signed to be a part of the team, which will be coached by former UNC-Chapel Hill junior varsity basketball player Claude Shields.
Knowing the new men on campus could be subject of scrutiny, Shields is prioritizing recruiting players with good off-court reputations, and Hardin – who had already been admitted to the school and received a $5,000 leadership scholarship – fit the bill.
Active in his church’s Young Life program and also with the Miracle League of the Triangle, Hardin received the leadership scholarship before Shields’ offer to play.
A Division III school, Peace does not offer athletic scholarships, but players must submit a letter-of-intent regardless as a binding agreement between student-athlete and institution.
In his four years of basketball at Green Hope, Hardin won the coaches’ award three times.
“He just seemed like a great kid that will not only do everything we ask on the court but off the court too,” Shields said. “Which is huge for any program, but more important for us.”
Hardin, who will major in international business, was a starter, but not one of Green Hope’s top five scorers this past season.
But he was the top defender on a 23-6 team, and was also counted on to rebound and take care of the ball.
Green Hope coach John Green calls Hardin a “dream to coach” and the quintessential role player.
“I don’t think I can remember a role player better than John Hardin,” Green said. “He knew that in order for him to get minutes and significant minutes he was going to have to box out, rebound, defend, not turn the ball over and score when he has opportunities.”
But it was his work on defense against Roxboro Person’s highly touted Tyrone Outlaw Jr. in the state 4A playoffs that convinced Shields he was getting an elite defender.
Outlaw averaged 22.8 points per game but was held to 14 that night – and didn’t score a field goal in the second half with Hardin shadowing him.
“(Hardin) did really well on (Outlaw),” Shields said. “Defensively, I think he’ll be able to come in and do a lot of the things he did in high school just because of how physical he plays.”
Peace, which competes in the USA South Athletic Conference, plays against other Division III schools in North Carolina and Virginia such as Meredith and Methodist. The school competes in six women’s sports but will have three men’s sports next fall – basketball, golf and cross country.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps