Finding the right fit for your college basketball program isn't just about what happens on the court, but off it as well. Ohio State added a key piece. How will that commitment impact the Buckeyes?
Sometimes, it just feels right. Not too long ago, Bowen Hardman reached that level of comfortability.
Since taking his first visit to Ohio State in August, he has taken a host of trips to Columbus. The shooting guard, who plays for Cincinnati's Princeton High School, picked up his offer from Ohio State while on one of his multiple visits in early October, and he built a strong relationship with head coach Chris Holtmann and assistant coach Jake Diebler along the way.
Xavier, Cincinnati and Ohio also offered him scholarships, but they couldn't do enough to either keep him in the Queen City or have him continue his basketball career in Athens.
On Wednesday evening, Hardman announced his commitment to Ohio State, becoming the first prospect to join what should be a large class of 2022.
On the Court
Everything about Hardman's game starts with his shot. Calling it silky would be accurate, and the numbers back up such a characterization.
As a sophomore at Princeton, he shot 46.4 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from 3-point range and 92 percent from the free-throw line. To put into perspective how much he relied upon his outside shot, 129 of his 224 shot attempts were from behind the arc, meaning he launched 5.4 triples per game and knocked them down at a near-40-percent clip. With the game of basketball necessitating a higher reliance on outside shooting than ever before, it makes sense why Ohio State wanted him.
However, it's important to note that Hardman's not just a stand-in-the-corner 3-point shooter. He's not just a one-dimensional offensive weapon. He moves around the court fluidly, handles the ball fairly well and has decent size for a shooting guard. His shooting stroke will take him places, but it wouldn't be wise to overlook the rest of his game.
Just ask Hardman, whose shot wasn't the first thing he mentioned when describing how he impacts games.
“I think definitely what I do best is penetrating and getting stronger at the basket for a guy my size,” Hardman told Eleven Warriors last year. “But also, I think, one of the biggest things is definitely my shot. Shooting's a big thing now in college, and I feel like I can do that exceptionally well. Also not just that but creating space for shots and creating space for other teammates and moving around. I think that's a big part of my game, as well, is being long for my size and being able to guard well on help side and stuff like that. I think that's a big plus.”
He's listed on national recruiting sites at 6-foot-3 and 160 pounds. But in actuality, he's an inch or two taller with room to grow and fill out his body. As a young prospect, he physically has quite a bit of development left. Ohio State already saw enough to both offer him a scholarship in the fall and honor his commitment this week.
Currently rated as a three-star recruit, Hardman won't alter the trajectory of the program. He doesn't project as a superstar. But as a high-character, sweet-shooting in-state prospect, there's a lot to like about him as a four-year Big Ten guard.
In the Class
Etzler was the first to commit to the 2021 class around this time a year ago, and Hardman's the first in the 2022 class to make it official that he plans to become a Buckeye.
Recently, Ohio State has started to target more high school sophomores, with Pennsylvania center Dereck Lively, Tennessee combo guard Skyy Clark, Michigan small forward Ty Rodgers, Richmond Heights small forward Josiah Harris and New York shooting guard Roddy Gayle Jr. becoming the latest to earn scholarships from Holtmann's staff over the past few weeks. Still, nobody had committed until Wednesday.
Including the addition of Hardman, here's how the scholarship chart now looks, with the caveat that Jimmy Sotos will redshirt this season and be a fifth-year senior for the 2021-22 season:
|PF||KYLE YOUNG||SETH TOWNS (RS)||E.J. LIDDELL||ZED KEY||KALEN ETZLER (2021)|
JUSTICE SUEING (RS)
MUSA JALLOW (RS)
|SG||–||DUANE WASHINGTON JR.||
||EUGENE BROWN||BOWEN HARDMAN (2022)|
CJ WALKER (RS)
ABEL PORTER (RS)
|–||–||–||MEECHIE JOHNSON (2021)|
As of now, Ohio State is set to lose six scholarship players following the 2021-22 season.
So, does that mean Holtmann's staff plans to bring in six prospects in the 2022 class, with Hardman being the first? No. First, given the nature of player movement these days, it's impossible to know whether the Buckeyes will actually lose six seniors that offseason. As we all know, having seen it happen this offseason, unexpected roster changes happen in the modern era of college basketball.
That said, Ohio State will have a large class in 2022, with a source telling Eleven Warriors to anticipate three or four eventual signees. Those within the program believe five or six signees in a single class would be too many.
Also of note: The 2022 class will likely have an Ohio flavor – or, an even greater Ohio flavor than it already has. Hardman, a year ago, said the Buckeyes were trying to pull him in as an "Ohio kid" who could be "something special" in Columbus.
“I think that's a big part of it is having kind of a family and home feel for it,” Hardman said of Ohio State last year.
Evidently that pitch worked for Hardman, and the Buckeyes are counting on it working for a few others.
The past three commitments – Etzler, Johnson and now Hardman – are all from Ohio. That's not a coincidence. The 2021 and 2022 cycles feature plenty of in-state talent that Ohio State's coaches have focused on.
Along with Etzler and Johnson, the Buckeyes want to round out their 2021 class by landing Malaki Branham, a four-star shooting guard from Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary who has topped their wish list for about a year. Then, in 2022, they have their eyes on a few Ohio targets.
Harris, whose recruitment went through a minor explosion over the past couple weeks, just picked up an offer from Ohio State a little over a week ago. Dayton Belmont four-star big man Shawn Phillips and Western Reserve Academy five-star shooting guard Chris Livingston also hold offers. Phillips is expected to remain a heavy target of the Buckeyes, while Livingston – a top-three overall prospect in his class – is likely to bypass college for professional options. St. Vincent-St. Mary's Sencire Harris and Woodward's Paul McMillan are also top-50 overall prospects in the 2022 class, but neither guard holds an offer yet. Gahanna point guard Sean Jones, who holds a dozen offers, is someone to watch closely, too. Though he doesn't yet have an Ohio State offer, Holtmann's staff is actively pursuing him.
Unless something significant changes, Ohio State will likely have back-to-back classes with multiple Ohioans in 2021 and 2022 for the first time since 2016 and 2017.
For being only in high school, Hardman has dealt with a tremendous amount of adversity over the past couple of years. In March 2019, late in his freshman year at Princeton, Hardman's father David died after a year-long battle with multiple myeloma, a rare type of blood cancer.
A Princeton graduate who coached girls' basketball at Cincinnati-area high schools for many years, David Hardman had a significant impact on his son both on and off the court.
"He's the No. 1 guy that I play for," Bowen Hardman told WCPO's Mike Dyer earlier this year.
Hardman, an upbeat high schooler wrapping up his sophomore year, has admirably refused to let that hinder his growth as a basketball player – even though it couldn't have possibly been easy.
"It really could've gone either way when David died," Dawn Hardman said to WCPO. "He could've completely given up basketball, but now he's even more determined to be successful."
In a few years, he'll be playing to honor his dad in a Buckeye uniform.