By Matt Mauney | Staff Writer
Steve Hardnett knows what it is like to have the odds stacked against him when it comes to playing the game he loves.
He is using that experience to give back to the city where he became a star on the basketball court, along with fulfilling another of his passions — helping kids.
Hardnett was a key player for Plant City High School five years ago, but because the school and community isn’t considered a hotbed for college basketball prospects, he didn’t get many looks from colleges.
His only “offer” was to go nearly 1,200 miles away from his hometown to Keystone College, a Division III school in La Plume, Pa. Even that wasn’t a sure thing. Hardnett was told that he could follow PCHS teammate and longtime friend Channing Woodall to Keystone, but unlike Woodall, he had no guarantee of making the team.
“It was kind of a package deal,” Hardnett said. “The head coach up there at the time told me that I could come (with Woodall) but that I wasn’t on the team. I applied to the school anyway, because I liked what they had to offer.”
Not only did Hardnett make the team, but also he quickly became one of the Giants’ best players. After riding the bench for the first half of his freshman season in 2008-09, Hardnett became a starter after the Christmas break and was named the Colonial States Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year at season’s end.
“Being told that I might not make the team only motivated me,” he said. “I knew what I was capable of, but I wanted to stay humble and not get cocky. I just wanted to let my play do the talking.”
And did he ever.
Hardnett followed up his freshman campaign by appearing in 26 games as a sophomore and leading Keystone with 15.7 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. He also led his team in scoring his junior year (16 ppg) and was named to the First-Team CSAC before having his best year to date this past season, his last with the Giants.
Hardnett averaged 18 points a game his senior season, along with 11 rebounds per game, both team-highs. He also led all NCAA Division III players with an impressive 65.2 field goal percentage and was once again named first-team all-conference.
Now, with a degree in sport and recreation management, Hardnett wants to give back and help young Plant City players hone in on their skills and be able to fulfill any college dreams they may have.
“Growing up, I remember my experiences of being in the Boys and Girls Club, and I remember how special it made you feel when others helped you,” he said. “Wanting to work with kids grew on me after some of my courses in college. They are just so full of energy and never get tired. If there is any way I could work with kids for my career, I would do it.”
Hardnett currently is helping out with the second session of the fifth annual Raiders Coed Basketball Camp this week at Plant City High. He was a camp favorite at the first session June 18-21 and said he plans on helping out with the final session July 30 through Aug. 2.
Hardnett helped out with the first camp in 2008, started by then-first-year head coach Dale Chambers.
“When I first came down here, I inherited the team with (Hardnett) on it, and he was one of my captains, and immediately I identified him as a leader,” Chambers said. “The kids here love him, obviously, because he’s a high-flyer, but also because he’s a great person.”
Both Hardnett and Chambers have seen the popularity of the sport grow in the community — the camp hosted about 30 in 2008 and had 80 registered for the first session alone this year — but would like to see even more growth in the future.
“I was talking recently with one of the coaches here, and he was telling me how most people in Plant City don’t get involved in basketball until after high school or college,” Hardnett said. “I think Plant City has talent when it comes to basketball, and there is some good competition around, so I think popularity will continue to grow.”