Jonesboro star leads Best Under The Sun team

Jonesboro junior point guard Ereauna Hardaway is the Best Under The Sun Player of the Year after leading the Lady Hurricane to the Class 5A state championship.

JONESBORO — Ereauna Hardaway is perfectly content to help teammates put points on the scoreboard, seeing that as a primary responsibility of her duties as Jonesboro’s point guard.

When necessary, as it was this season against Conway, Viola and Greenwood, among others, the junior guard can take over a game as a scorer. And then the next game, Jonesboro coach Jodi Christenberry said, Hardaway might not score in double figures at all.

“It’s not because they necessarily take away her game, it’s just that she sees the assists are there. She’ll get 25 points one game and then 10 assists the next,” Christenberry said. “With some kids, that would play with their mind because they think, ‘I need to get 25 every game,’ and she’s OK with, ‘I got 25 points there and I got six this game, but I got 12 assists.’

“That’s pretty special about a kid. I think she’s one of the most special kids I’ve gotten the opportunity to coach.”

Hardaway’s playmaking abilities helped Jonesboro win the Class 5A state tournament, the program’s third state championship in six seasons. The Class 5A state MVP and a member of the Arkansas Sports Media Super Team, she is also the Best Under The Sun Player of the Year.

Jonesboro (23-6) won seven postseason games after entering the 5A-East conference tournament as the No. 3 seed. The Lady Hurricane upset regular-season 5A-East champ Batesville in the conference tournament final and knocked off 5A-West power Greenwood in the state quarterfinals, beating two teams that had been prominent in state title talk all season.

Hardaway, who averaged 14 points, six assists and 3.5 rebounds, said the Lady Hurricane felt overlooked.

“I feel like we were up and coming this year, that we were the underdogs and everybody was counting us out and we really worked hard to become better this season,” she said. “We didn’t start off so great, kind of scary, but then we started getting better as we went on.”

Hardaway started the season with 29 points in a home loss to eventual 6A semifinalist Conway. In December, she scored 25 points and the game-winning basket in a 64-63 road victory over Viola, which went on to reach the 1A semifinals.

Three months later, with the Lady Hurricane facing defending state champion Greenwood in the 5A state quarterfinals, Christenberry told Hardaway the team’s fortunes rested with her.

“I think I told her in front of the team, ‘This Greenwood game is on you tonight. We’re going to live or die with you tonight,’” Christenberry said. “She stepped up to that challenge. If she doesn’t break that press, and we worked on it a bunch of different ways, but really it came down to her making decisions, and she made all the right ones.”

Hardaway scored 25 points and added nine assists to lead the Lady Hurricane to a 67-60 victory. She made all but one of her eight free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, a typical showing as she shot 84 percent from the line for the season.

The next two rounds, Hardaway scored 14 points against Marion in the semifinals and 13 against West Memphis in the title game. In the championship game, she scored all but two of her points during the second half.

“I feel like some games we have droughts where we’re not scoring, so I feel like I should step up,” Hardaway said. “I’ve been working out for those times.”

Christenberry said Hardaway regularly works out at 5:30 in the morning before school.

“The thing about Ereauna is she puts so much extra time into her game that she should be confident in all areas,” Christenberry said. “I think as we’ve gone along, her 3-point shot has gotten better so that she’s stretching people out way more than what she was able to in the past. Her floor vision is just remarkable and that opens up everything else for her.

“Her passing is great. Her shooting, she’s the best point guard shooter I’ve had since I’ve been here, and I think going along with that is her humility. Her being humble is, I think, what has made her an even better player because she will take and she craves feedback and critique.”

Hardaway hopes she will start to draw more college interest as the AAU season progresses.

Christenberry said Hardaway has received some Division I scholarship offers, but considers her 5-5 point guard to be highly under-recruited.

“I think her size probably scares people off a little bit because you’ll have some head coaches who’ll say, ‘Don’t even bring me the name of a kid under 5-6 or 5-7,’” Christenberry said. “You just have some coaches out there with that mentality.

“Then her speed and quickness don’t really match up for her size at a Division I (level), but her focus, her mentality and her floor vision, I think, make up for that in spades. I think she’s one of the best point guards I’ve ever coached.”