Monday, May 21, 2018 | 2 a.m.
As recently as four months ago, Julian Strawther and Jaden Hardy were strangers.
The basketball prodigies are good friends now, but as of Jan. 23 their relationship was a blank slate. Under normal circumstances, the two best young prospects in a city have an awareness of each other, at least by reputation. But because Hardy had just moved to Las Vegas months earlier for his freshman year, there was no competitive history between the two.
So when Strawther’s Liberty team faced off against Hardy’s Coronado squad for the first time in January, neither knew what to expect.
After they combined for 73 points that night — 45 by Strawther in a Liberty victory — it led to a classic “game recognize game” introduction. The two are finalists for the Rising Star (top underclassman) award at the Sun Standout Awards, the Sun's annual high school sports awards show on Wednesday at the South Point.
“We’re good friends, but we only met when I played against him,” Hardy says. “He didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who he was. But then after the game, he came up and we dapped each other up and told each other ‘Good game,’ and after that we started to keep in touch. Off the court, we’re good with each other.”
Now, Strawther and Hardy are the twin faces of Las Vegas’ next wave of basketball talent. Strawther, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, averaged 23.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game this season, while Hardy, a 6-foot-4 guard, poured in more than 20 points per game as a freshman. Strawther is rated as the No. 10 player in the Class of 2020 by Rivals.com, while Hardy is the nation’s No. 27 recruit in the Class of 2021 according to Future150.com.
After their initial duel and the subsequent midcourt meeting, Strawther and Hardy have gotten to know each other as peers as well as rivals. They both play AAU ball for the Las Vegas Prospects, so spring road trips have solidified their friendship.
“It’s great,” Strawther says. “Jaden and I are fortunate enough to play together on the AAU circuit and grow really close with each other, so we’re really great friends.”
Aside from their otherworldly ability to score the ball, they have plenty in common off the court. While both tend to be soft-spoken, Strawther and Hardy have a shared appreciation for joking around.
“Playing with [Strawther] is really fun,” Hardy says. “We have a lot of fun on and off the court.”
Both have familial ties to UNLV, as well. Strawther’s big sister, Paris, is a frontcourt stalwart for the Lady Rebels, while Hardy’s older brother, Amauri, is heading into his sophomore season as a guard for the Runnin’ Rebels.
Amauri’s commitment to UNLV is the reason the Hardy family relocated to Las Vegas from Michigan before last season, and the Rebels are currently recruiting both younger siblings.
So while they started off as strangers, Strawther and Hardy are sure to be linked together by their basketball talent as well as their personal friendship for the foreseeable future.
Until next season, when Strawther and Hardy slip on their high school jerseys and face off for the next chapter in their budding rivalry.
“We’re all friends until we step on that hardwood,” Strawther says with a smile. “We’ll be in the bleachers before the game clowning with each other, but as soon as we get on the court it’s me against you. We’re not friends anymore.”