Similar to his Utah Jazz predecessor, Quin Snyder, Will Hardy is a product of the Gregg Popovich NBA coaching tree.
That fact still blows the mind of Hardy, whose Jazz host the Spurs for a second consecutive game Tuesday in Salt Lake City. The 35-year-old coaching prodigy vividly recalls growing up in the hoops world as a kid from Richmond, Va., who played Division III basketball and had to work his way up from the lowest position to where he is now.
Eighteen-year-old Will Hardy would be stunned to see how quickly he climbed the coaching ladder and has made a name for himself. Modern-day Will Hardy coached for years in the Spurs’ system before making a quick stop in Boston en route to Utah, where he’s coached a rebuilding Jazz team to a surprising 31-31 record.
“If you had told me then that I would be able to call Gregg Popovich or Becky Hammon or Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan or Tony Parker on the phone, and that they would pick up and … know who I am is — it’s really kind of mind-bending,” Hardy said this weekend.
“Those people deserve those honors. Like, they’re going in the Hall of Fame for a reason. And it’s just fun to have been … a blip on the radar in their journey. Like, to have been in the room with them, on the court with them for some of those moments, is really cool.”
Popovich believes Hardy, whose Jazz team rallied to beat the Spurs 118-102 on Saturday night, belongs where he is.
“He’s ridiculously intelligent. And he’s a hard worker. He started out at the bottom in the film room, and it was pretty apparent very quickly that he understood everything that we coaches wanted,” Popovich said. “It was almost like, in some ways, we were wasting his time, because he already was doing what we needed. So he was a pretty impressive individual from the get-go.”
Popovich said he put Hardy on the court with players and was impressed at how he “commanded respect” by his presence, conduct and wisdom — and even his wry sense of humor. That helped Hardy earn Popovich’s trust, which led to him being promoted as a bench coach.
“He’s got a great temperament. Much better than mine,” Popovich said. “And I actually learn from him in a lot of those situations, as much or more than he learned from me. So he was kind of a no-brainer from the beginning, to be honest with you.”
Hardy has been credited with helping Lauri Markkanen, a leading candidate for Most Improved Player, develop into an All-Star this season after the Jazz received him as just one of many pieces in the Donovan Mitchell trade. He’s also helped Walker Kessler, among other young players, begin to reach his potential earlier than most expected.
All of that was on display Saturday when Utah overcame San Antonio’s 14-point lead in what evolved into a lopsided win for the Jazz. It was their third win in four games — despite the fact that the franchise dealt away three key players at the trade deadline following their offseason overhaul.
Hardy is loving the experience even if it still surprises him that he’s now coaching at the same level as his Hall of Fame-bound mentor.
“Like anybody, I suffer from impostor syndrome at times,” Hardy said. “… It’s another pinch me moment, in what continues to be for me kind of a pinch me basketball life.”
–Field Level Media