Jessica Hardin’s return could be “great breath of fresh air” for Kentucky women

Jessica Hardin, right (Vicky Graff Photo)

By LARRY VAUGHT

Going into this season, Jessica Hardin had a chance to be one of the feel-good stories in women’s college basketball.

Kentucky was short on numbers. Hardin, a former all-state player at Wayne County, was always a Kentucky fan but did not get a UK scholarship offer and went to Bellarmine. She had a successful freshman season, but left Bellarmine, transferred to UK and became just a normal student. Her basketball activity the previous two years was limited to playing for Delta Delta Delta in the sorority league.

When the call went out for players, Hardin decided to try out and made the team as a walk-on. She was so impressive that she earned a scholarship.

She had a solid start to the season until suffering a concussion against Duke in late December. She’s not played since then and her status for tonight’s game at Arkansas remains uncertain even though coach Matthew Mitchell made it sound like Wednesday that she might play at Arkansas.

She brings us so much physically, but she is out of rhythm and that is a hard thing for her, but yesterday (Tuesday) I really felt like we made some progress and there was some light at the end of the tunnel,” Mitchell said Wednesday.

“It is very difficult to miss 12 games and then come in for the last four, but it is not a physical issue anymore with her. It is about calming down and getting back into the rotation and the rhythm and a lot of her difficulties in practice have been with her trying to get it back too quickly and you just have to settle down and clam down and let it happen.

“But man, would she be a great breath of fresh air for us. Another really quick, fast athlete that allows us to maybe put a little more pressure on teams. You know, she has to stay patient because if she can just get herself back in, she can be a factor for us down the stretch.

“I would love to get Jess back going and that would give us a little more depth and that would be welcomed from the team. But you cannot rush it and cannot upset the rhythm of the team. If you cannot get out there and contribute then you can’t be out there just to be another body. So we have to work our way through that process. We won’t upset anything, we will make sure whoever is contributing and getting the job done is who will play. But, I think that we are moving in a really positive direction there.”

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