Basketball means more than just fun and games for the Hardemans—it means family, business, and ministry.
When APU hired T.J. Hardeman as head women’s basketball coach in 2007, the team embraced his family-focused coaching style. In his third year, the Cougars played in their first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national championship game and a year later won the title-game rematch with Union University.
Hardeman’s instant success came as no surprise to those aware of his previous coaching experience. A 20-year veteran high school boys basketball coach, he led Troy High School, located in Fullerton, California, to 11 playoff appearances in 13 years and was four-time league Coach of the Year. At the college level, he guided the Hope International women’s basketball team, which had finished last in the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) for five consecutive years, to the program’s first 20-win season and its first NAIA postseason appearance in 2006, his second year on the job, orchestrating one of the most remarkable GSAC turnarounds ever.
Considering the Hardeman lineage of successful players and coaches, such accomplishments simply run in the family. Hardeman’s father, Tine, an NAIA All-American in the 1950s at Westmont College, still holds the school’s single-game scoring record (46 points). But the senior Hardeman passed up a potential professional basketball career to pursue his passion for ministry, moving his family to the Philippines to teach and coach at Faith Academy. “My father taught me that basketball coupled with ministry can be a fun and effective way to share the Gospel,” said Hardeman, who put that principle into practice as a player at Westmont. Each of his siblings followed in the family footsteps, and Hardeman’s two daughters and two sons played college basketball at GSAC schools.
One star Hardeman player, however, remained in the Philippines, dreaming of the chance to contribute to the family legacy. While her uncle coached APU to two NAIA championship games, Kelly Hardeman ’16, the daughter of T.J.’s youngest brother, Todd, led Faith Academy to the Far East Girls Basketball Tournament title as a high school freshman, sophomore, and senior, earning tournament co-MVP honors in that final game. A player of her caliber would normally draw scouts from several prestigious colleges, but her remote location kept her off their radars.
“Kelly could easily have been an NCAA Division I player, but American colleges aren’t scouting the Far East championships. I’m fortunate I had the inside track on her talent,” said Hardeman, who recruited her during her senior year in 2011–12. It was a natural fit for an outstanding player, let alone a member of his own family, to join the family he created through Azusa Pacific basketball.
“Coach Hardeman cares about each person like he does his own family and has a great way of teaching his players to believe in themselves,” said Kristie Hala’ufia ’11, a senior center and captain of the Cougars’ national championship team. “He pushes you on the court and encourages your growth off the court. Winning a national championship was icing on the cake because it was the steps of the journey we took with our teammates and coaches that was the most memorable for me.”
After cultivating such a deep sense of camaraderie on his team, Hardeman knew his niece would thrive. What he could not predict was how quickly she would adjust. “While I came to Azusa Pacific for basketball, it didn’t take long to fall in love with everything about the school,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t have picked a better place for college—with or without basketball.”
Fortunately, she came “with basketball” and impressed early in the year, scoring 20 points, including six 3-pointers, in the season opener. Over the year, she transitioned from playing inside as a forward in high school to a role as a sharpshooting slasher, winning a pair of prestigious Pacific West Conference honors while keeping APU within reach of a conference crown heading into the final week of the regular season. She was named to the All-PacWest team and earned the league’s Freshman of the Year award in the Cougars’ first season of NCAA Division II competition. She returns as the team’s leading scorer for her upcoming 2013–14 sophomore season.
“Kelly set herself apart by her work ethic, and I have confidence in her to explore her individual game within the confines of our team game. Just as we do with all players on the team, we put her in situations that take advantage of her strengths so she can contribute to the team’s success,” said Hardeman.
If basketball and ministry define the Hardeman legacy, the family business is thriving at Azusa Pacific.