June 30, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Tavaras Hardy has never had a problem imposing his will.
Being 6-8 and somewhere still in the neighborhood of the 235 pounds at which he played during a distinguished four-year college career at Northwestern, and one year professionally in Finland, assures that.
But while the 36-year-old native of Joliet, Ill., will always be one of the biggest men in whatever room he’s in, he is as much about knowledge and finesse as he is about brute force and power and recognizes the importance of little things.
Hardy, who was hired as an assistant coach by new Georgia Tech men’s basketball coach Josh Pastner on May 6, points to a simple suggestion from then-first-year NU Coach Bill Carmody that turned into a game-changer.
“Coach Carmody saw me shooting 17-footers, I was a good 15-to-17-foot shooter, and he was like, ‘What are you doing? Take a step back. It’s worth one more point.’ So I started working at it,” Hardy recalled. “So in the off-season before my senior year, I really put the time in and then I played on a travel team, the Big-Ten All-Star Team, in Europe. I think I shot 50 percent from three in the six games that we played. It was my first time in games making threes. It sort of led to me having more confidence my senior year in taking those shots.”
Hardy, who shot a combined 2-for-40 on threes (a .05 percentage) his first three seasons, hit 26 of 94 tries as a senior.
A two-time All-Big Ten selection for the Wildcats, and a three-time team MVP who still ranks in the top 10 in blocks, games, starts and minutes, Hardy was a master of making adjustments and improvements as a player, then added to his bank of knowledge as an assistant coach.
He took full advantage of the opportunity to learn at Northwestern, where he assisted for seven years under Carmody and Chris Collins, and for three years under John Thompson III at Georgetown.
“I’ve been lucky to have worked for excellent coaches,” he said. “Bill Carmody, I think, is one of the best basketball minds in the country. I learned a lot just about how to see the game, to be able to implement and communicate effectively to the players. Coach Thompson is an unbelievable professional. Under him for those three years, learning how a big-time program is supposed to be run, I think he’s one of the best in the country at that. It was just a great experience learning how to recruit at a higher level under him, then just going night in and night out expecting to win every game that you play, which was what we did.”
He considers his strengths his preparation and ability to adapt.
“I think I see situations well, offensively and defensively,” he said. “So when it comes to preparing for games, when it comes to communicating the message to players, when it comes to making adjustments in games, that vision that started when I was a player and progressed through coaching with Coach Carmody and Coach Thompson, I think that’s been my strongest attribute. I think that I can see things happening and adjustments that need to be made and am capable of communicating those effectively to the players.”
Hardy brings quite a record of success of player development to Atlanta.
At Northwestern, he had a big hand in the development of forward John Shurna, who earned first-team All-Big Ten honors on his way to becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, and guard/forward Drew Crawford, the media’s choice for 2010 Big Ten freshman of the year. At Georgetown, working with wings and post players, Hardy had a big influence on forward Isaac Copeland and guard L.J. Peak, who earned Big East all-freshman honors for 2014-15, and center Jessie Govan, a 2015-16 Big East all-freshman selection.
Hardy also is considered a strong recruiter and will be counted on to bring players to Atlanta. He’ll concentrate on the Chicago area although he’s already shown he can recruit in the South, having brought 2010 Metro Atlanta player of the year JerShon Cobb to Northwestern. He had similar success in bringing players to D.C., helping Thompson rope in a pair of top-20 classes.
Having learned well from his experience attending, then coaching, at his alma mater and at Georgetown, Tavaras is neither intimidated nor restricted by the academic requirements involved in recruiting for Georgia Tech.
“I didn’t even understand what it meant to go to a big-time academic institution. I chose Northwestern because it was in the Big Ten and I wanted to play,” he admitted. “I learned when I got there what this meant, and it opened up a world of opportunities for me. So when basketball was over, I had a lot of options. My vision is to only work for institutions like Georgia Tech, where you offer more than just being a basketball player. I know why it’s important.
“I think [Georgia Tech is] all-encompassing. There’s not one particular thing,” he added. “I think we’re going to have to utilize every aspect of this place, because there are so many good things. The key as I deal with recruits is finding out what’s going to be the trigger for them. Would they want to come here because of the city of Atlanta? Are they really seeking the high-academic place that competes at the highest level? Or is it playing time? We have to figure out what that is. We offer a lot. It’s up to us to get out there and figure out what it is that’s going to get the best players to come here, and I think we will. The way we’re going to play, we’re going to be able to track the top talent at all positions – from bigs to wings to guards. So I’m just excited about that.”
He’s felt first-hand the power of attraction that Georgia Tech presents.
“I was recruiting Iman Shumpert to Northwestern and we were in there early so we had a pretty good relationship,” he recalled. “Then he kind of blew up. I was fascinated with Coach [Paul] Hewitt’s ability to recruit Iman over Roy Williams at North Carolina and over Tom Crean, who had it rolling at Marquette. Ever since then I’ve always been a fan of this place because I thought, ‘If he can go to Chicago and get one of the top two players and can bring him down to Atlanta, it has to be a strong product.’ Iman thought about things the right way. It’s hard to turn down Carolina and those places, but he did. I thought that was fascinating.”
As much as Hardy is looking forward to bringing young student-athletes to Atlanta to mentor, he’s even more excited about bringing his family — wife, Billée, and daughters Mariah (9), Jasmine (4), and son T.J. (2) — south.
“I have a wonderful wife whom I’ve known since my freshman year of college, and I have three great children,” he said. “It’s been fascinating watching them grow up. So spending time with the family and helping my wife raise those wonderful kids is what I enjoy.”
He and Billée have made a pretty good team since they met on campus when both represented Wildcats hoops — Billée played four years for NU’s women’s basketball team. That’s as true on the court as off.
“True story, on our honeymoon, we played in a three-on-three tournament at our resort in Aruba,” he remembered. “It was the championship game, it was a dad and his two sons, against, us. We didn’t have a third so we picked up the little pool girl. We won the tournament.”
The win came at something of a price, however, as it actually led to the couple’s first tiff — something Tavaras credits to their desire to win.
“I’m competitive, and she’s competitive. She was taking some bad shots, and I had to kind of tell her, ‘That’s not a good shot,’” he recalled, with a laugh. “But we had fun.”