As the Bobcats prepare for Saturday’s Conference Carolinas semifinal contest against Barton, they have a record of 21-8. It is the third time the Bobcats have broken the school record for wins in Hardin’s five seasons at the helm.
“We pretty much have every record at Lees-McRae as far as individual marks and team stats,” said Hardin, who is a native of Elizabethton.
Lees-McRae is 13-2 at home this season and will play in its gym in Banner Elk, North Carolina, in the championship if it defeats Barton. The Bobcats are ranked No. 7 in the NCAA Division II Southeast Region, which means the team has a nice chance to earn a spot in the national tournament.
“Our region is the toughest in the country with No. 1 Lincoln Memorial and No. 2 Queens,” said Hardin.
SPEED AND FREEDOM
The success of Lees-McRae is built on speedy pace. The Bobcats average 90 points per game.
“I am a high-energy coach, so playing fast just fits my personality,” said Hardin. “Our identity is FIRE — which means fearless, intense, relentless, effort. My job is to get my players giving maximum effort and sacrifice for the program and each other.”
Hardin said he learned a long time ago not to “overcoach.”
“I will let them ‘go play’ offensively if we are moving the basketball and playing unselfishly,” he said. “My No. 1 objective is to make them a better version of themselves — on and off the floor.”
Lees-McRae has a built-in advantage that fits hand in hand with Hardin’s pressure-speed tactics. The school has the highest elevation of any college or university in the United States east of the Mississippi River: 3,720 feet above sea level.
“When visiting teams come to the den, we want to wear them out physically and mentally,” said Hardin.
Lees-McRae defeated King University 76-74 in January, but the Bobcats suffered a tough 102-98 loss to Coach George Pitts’ team on Feb. 23. That game decided the Conference Carolinas regular season title. However, King was upset in the first round of the postseason tournament by Belmont Abbey.
Hardin said the key to success has been togetherness.
“We have 10 seniors,” said Hardin. “So we needed seniors to be seniors, sacrifice for the team, be leaders, and do whatever it takes to win.”
Hardin’s wife, Tanika, is an assistant principal in the Bristol City Schools system. Tanika (Andrews) played for Hampton and helped the Lady Bulldogs reach the Class A state tournament.
“We live in Hampton and both drive opposite ways every day,” said Hardin.
The couple has two kids: Lyla, 8, and Campbell, 3.
“My kids love the team and come to every game,” said Hardin.