Coming into the season, Lithia Springs coach J.W. Cantrell had a couple of reasons to be concerned.
Cantrell wasn’t sure who would be the Lions’ lead guard but then enter freshman Anthony Hardy into the picture.
The coach was concerned how a freshman would handle the pressure of running a team and earning the trust and respect of his upperclassmen teammates.
Those concerns were eased three games into the season when Hardy became the team’s second-leading scorer and floor leader.
“He has been huge to our success,” Cantrell said. “He has his hands on the ball a lot for us, and has been able to have some success. I was worried about how he would handle the pressure at the beginning of the season. Everyday he has gotten better. I look forward to his continued growth over the next three seasons.”
Hardy will help lead the No. 4 seed Lions against Buford, the Region 8-AAAAA champions, on Saturday in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs. The Lions are making their first playoff appearance since the 2011-12 season.
The 6-foot-1 Hardy is averaging 10 points and four assist per game.
“It has been a big adjustment coming from middle school to high school basketball,” he said. “I’ve had to learn the faster pace of the game. I know I will have to get stronger on this level.”
Hardy said he has gotten comfortable with running the offense. He admits that he was nervous at the beginning of the season.
“I think after the first couple of games, I made the adjustments and gotten comfortable,” Hardy said. “I’ve had to learn the pace of the game. I think once I’ve gotten that down, I think everything has fallen into place.”
Earning the respect and acceptance of his teammates was the another concern that Hardy had but he has proven himself.
“He’s been a leader for us, and that’s been huge,” Cantrell said. “Anthony is the type of player that leads by example. I was concerned about the upperclassmen listening to him. You really don’t know how they will take a freshmen. I think throughout the season that he has earned their respect.”
Part of the reason that Hardy has made a smooth transition has been the guidance from teammate Ceaunte Zachery. The first-team all-region guard has been a mentor to Hardy.
“He has come in here and did a good job for us,” Zachery said. “He is learning how to get the ball up the court quicker and hove to distribute it to the open player. He has gained a lot of respect through the way he has played for us. Anthony is definitely holding his own. He has been good at leading this team.”
And that will be put to the test against Buford, which has a 24-2 overall record and went undefeated in 12 Region 8-AAAAA games.
The Wolves are undefeated at home and has won 13 straight games. Buford’s only two losses have come to teams from out of town in a holiday tournament in Tennessee.
“We are definitely excited about the challenge,” Hardy said. “We just have to play the way we have been playing and score the ball.”
Last season, Hardy played at Mount Bethel Christian Academy in Marietta. Prior to that, he lived in Virginia for a while after attending Mount Carmel Elementary.
“I’m going to work in the offseason to get stronger,” Hardy said. “I think I’m use to the speed on this level now.”