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    Malik Hardmon stands at the three-point, and looks at his options to find a way to the basket. REGISTER/ERICK MITCHELL

HARD-NOSED HARDMON

The Iola Register

Chicago is known as a factory for producing some of basketball’s top stars. Lakers’ Anthony Davis, former Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade, and league MVP Derek Rose are a few that come to mind. 

But Coach Andy Shaw has some of Chi-town’s top talent right here at Allen Community College.

Windy City product Malik Hardmon has arguably been the prestigious Jayhawk Conference’s top player for 2019-20. The sophomore forward is averaging just over 18 points along with 9 rebounds per contest. 

But before Hardmon became a star on the court for ACC, he had to find his way to Iola. 

“I was able to go NCAA D-II or D-III if I wanted to,” Hardmon said. “I could have walked on at a D-I, but I just wanted to go the JUCO route.”

Shaw heard word of Hardmon’s skill through another JUCO coach. That coach didn’t have any remaining scholarships available, so Shaw jumped on the opportunity to bring Hardmon to ACC. 

While Hardmon had never set foot in Iola before the start of the fall semester in 2018, he had no issue trading in the big-city lifestyle for the rural plains of southeast Kansas. In fact, he considers it a perfect fit.

“I feel like it matched my personality because I am more of a laid-back, quiet person,” Hardmon said. “Even though I was in Chicago, I was still always to myself. With Iola kind of being a smaller town, it really fit well because I wasn’t really looking to go out of my dorm too much, or go to places, or party a lot.”

Last season as a freshman, Hardmon made his mark averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per contest. 

“He does a lot of things that don’t show up in the box score,” Shaw said. “He just plays relentlessly, and we saw it last year. He was kind of that quiet leader because we had Perry Carrol, Darius Love, and Wesley Anderson, who were the vocal voices for the team. This year, I challenged him and said that his leadership role was going to have to increase.”

Usually one who leads by example and uses few words, Hardmon reflects that of NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard. 

“It is funny that you say that because when I was in high school, everyone always told me that I look like Kawhi Leonard,” Hardmon said. “Everyone tells me that I look like him, act like him, and sound like him.”

Just as Leonard has taken vocal ownership of his Los Angeles Clippers this season, so has Hardmon for ACC. 

“This year it is his team, and he has gotten out of his comfort zone, and started speaking probably more than he wants to,” Shaw said. “He has always led by example by how hard he plays, and he reallys sets the tone for us. He has been getting a lot of compliments from every coach that we’ve played over the course of the whole game.”

Hardmon’s signature performance so far this season came against No. 5 Hutchinson Community College, when he recorded a career high 39 points in the victory.  

“When I heard about how good Hutchinson was, I just wanted to beat them,” Hardmon said. “I came out with the mentality that I’m going to go at these guys, and not back down because I don’t like to feel overwhelmed from the competition. I want to go at the competition.”

Shaw wishes Hardmon had two more seasons with ACC, but such is the plight of every community college.

With a strong two years in the scarlet and black, Hardmon is generating a buzz that most likely will further his basketball career.

“I have heard from Portland State, North Carolina Central, and Malik has heard from Eastern Illinois,” Shaw said. “So the D-I schools are starting to give some interest, and I believe it will only grow from there.”

The 6-5 Hardmon has been deployed as a post player throughout his career, but may be considered undersized for the power forward position at higher levels. So, Hardmon is keen on increasing his versatility to play any position on the court. 

Over the off-season, Hardmon made it a point to improve his long-range shooting. Firing at 25% from beyond the arc a season ago, Hardmon has bumped that up to nearly 35%. During this season, ACC assistant coach Stedman Allen has helped Hardmon improve his ball handling. 

Although the 3-point sniping and flash handles aren’t there yet, Hardmon is trending in the right direction. 

“When I go to my next school, I’m aiming to play in a guard position,” Hardmon said. “I also want to be able to play the three, get to the rim, shoot off the dribble, and be a consistent threat from the outside.”

At the moment, Hardmon has bigger fish to fry than deciding his future. The Red Devils are coming off a 93-89 loss to Barton Community College on Saturday that ended an 11-game winning streak. 

With the loss, ACC is now tied with Cowley County at 7-1 for the top spot in the Jayhawk East. Hardmon highlights that the Red Devils plan to recover, and build a new winning streak starting at Butler on Wednesday. 

“I’m going to lead by example, but at the same time I’m letting these guys know that this conference is always competitive,” Hardmon said. “I feel like last year we might have gotten a little complacent, and started to take for granted what we had accomplished. So this year, we just need to do what we need to do.”

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