OGDEN — Jerrick Harding wasn’t going to be optionless without interest from Weber State basketball, but that’s not to say interest in the Kansas High School Gatorade Player of the Year was high.
And even when he landed on Weber State’s roster, nothing was sure.
But when Harding takes the Dee Events Center floor for the final time Monday night, it will be as the program’s most prolific scorer by most measures.
In hand for Harding: the crown as Weber State’s all-time career scoring leader, 2,181 points and counting (currently third all-time in Big Sky history); the single-game scoring record, 46 points; and the single-game Dee Events Center scoring record, 44 points.
While Harding’s height isn’t his story, it is part of it. WSU’s roster lists Harding as a 6-foot-1 guard and, despite his scoring prowess even in high school, that’s part of his path to Weber State.
He held offers from UMKC, Loyola-Chicago, Coppin State and Sam Houston State.
“You win Gatorade Player of the Year, you should maybe have offers from Kansas, K-State — at least Wichita State with me being from Wichita, playing the state tournament in their arena,” Harding said. “You feel like you should be hearing from those schools, but it is what it is. It was fuel to my fire.”
It could be said Harding was the last player to join Weber State’s roster in 2016.
WSU head coach Randy Rahe said he needed a guard late in the recruiting calendar and preferred a primary scorer to join an otherwise experienced team ahead of the 2016-17 season. Phone calls from his staff turned up Harding’s name, who wasn’t much on WSU’s radar since he was light on AAU experience.
Former WSU assistant coach Phil Beckner, who was an assistant at Nebraska at the time, had seen Harding play and also hosted him on an unofficial visit. He said a Nebraska offer wasn’t coming but endorsed Harding to Rahe.
“So we get him here and I’m like, ‘man, this little guy can score,’” Rahe said. “But he’s not very big, so we’ll get him in our program, develop him, get him stronger, and see if he turns out to be something. But I wasn’t 100% sure.”
Rahe even suggested to Harding that he consider redshirting.
Harding decided against it.
“My thinking was, I can play now. I feel like I can help the team now ... the best thing for me was to wait my turn,” he said. “A lot of freshmen come to college and it’s just what they have to do. I felt like it would be a better experience to fight for minutes instead of just sitting out a whole year.”
When he delivered his decision to the coaching staff?
“They told me that I can’t get mad if I don’t get playing time,” he laughed.
He began his career picking up small handfuls of minutes off the bench, and was 0 of his first 11 from the 3-point line.
At some point in December 2016, Rahe remembers senior guard Jeremy Senglin, whom Harding would eventually dethrone as WSU’s all-time scoring king, poking his head into his office.
“Coach, what do you think about Jerrick?” Rahe remembers Senglin asking.
“I like Jerrick. He’s going to be a good player, but he’s got to get bigger, stronger,” was the response.
“Coach, there’s nobody in practice who can guard him. He goes by us,” Senglin said.
“He’s obviously trying to tell me we should play Jerrick more,” Rahe recalls as he retells the conversation.
On Dec. 21 that year, Harding played 19 minutes and shot 3 of 5 from deep, scoring 14 points in a historic win at Utah State.
By the end of his freshmen year, he carried a season-high of 22 points, started the final six games, was named to the Big Sky’s all-tournament team, and logged 39 minutes in the season finale — a CIT second-round loss at Texas A&M Corpus Christi in which he scored 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from deep.
From then on, Harding’s name has been synonymous with buckets. He’s averaged 21.4 or more points per game in each of his final three seasons.
“That’s a crazy process to go through, now being the all-time leading scorer. Just because of my work ethic, I’ve always been the person who comes to the gym at night and gets shots up, wanting to work,” he said. “That’s part of the reasons why, but it’s a blessing for sure.”
It’s hard to pick any one thing that stands out as the quintessential Harding moment, though the recent Feb. 6 night when he scored 44 points at home to become the career scoring king is probably at the top of the list.
Whatever moment you choose, it’s sure to include a smattering of tough, sometimes downright ridiculous, finishes in the paint or at the rim. Harding’s bag of scoops, finger rolls, flip shots, leaners, faders, stepbacks and anything else has seemed nearly bottomless in his time at Weber State.
“I think so,” Rahe said about Harding’s flying finishes being the way he’ll be remembered. “The circus shots he makes, distorting his body in there, and he’s got incredible touch.”
And that’s where his size is a definite part of his story.
Weber State has 36 players in program history to score 1,000 career points. Of 35 with verifiable heights listed either at weberstatesports.com or basketball-reference.com, 20 of those players are 6-foot-5 or taller and 15 are 6-foot-4 or shorter.
If you take Harding’s 6-foot-1 rostered height at face value, there’s only one player shorter on the entire list: Alex Fisher (1995-98), a 6-foot-even guard who scored less than half of Harding’s total at 1,012 career points.
“I do have a knack for it, because I’ve always been smaller than other guys so I’ve always had to finish over bigger guys,” Harding said. “But coming to college, basketball is basketball. I’ve been doing it since I was little.”
His senior season has come near derailment a few times and he’s played at less than 100%, sometimes far less, throughout.
A late offseason foot procedure to address the makings of a stress fracture took away his preseason training and his first real action on the court was suiting up for the season’s second game. He suffered a severe ankle sprain in the conference opener, and has since been grinding through the remaining schedule with shin splints — hardly practicing to get his legs ready for the next game.
“Injuries are a part of the game, you have to fight through it,” Harding said as a matter of fact. “If you can get on the floor and produce, you have to play through it.”
While he tasted the NBA Draft process a summer ago, Harding — a professional sales major with a minor in psychology — says he can hardly think about what’s next except that he wants to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
“All we’re worried about right now is making the tourney. That stuff after the season will take care of itself,” he said.
Harding says he has plans to remain part of the program forever. WSU is the place he grew up, where he made lifelong relationships.
However his potential pro career plays out and what the future has in store, he’ll always have a place in the annals of Weber State men’s basketball history, both in the record books and for those who will remember seeing him play.
“I’ve had some really good guards. His pure scoring ability is as good as I’ve ever had,” Rahe said. “Just scoring at every level, and he’s as good a finisher at the rim as I’ve ever coached. His ball just goes in the basket.”