During his Hall of Fame career, Roy Condotti has had the opportunity to coach many players that have gone on to star at major Division I colleges or play in the NBA.
Homewood-Flossmoor graduate Excell Hardy may not fit that description, but he does make an elite list of the longtime coach.
“He’s probably one of the top five players I’ve ever had the chance to coach,” said Condotti, who won 385 games and made state title runs during his stints at Westinghouse and H-F. “Since the time he was a sophomore, he was just a winner. Some kids are winners, but they can’t bring other guys along with them. He was an excellent leader and a hard worker. It was an absolute pleasure to coach him.”
Hardy played an integral role in H-F reaching the Class AA state championship game in 2004 when he was a senior.
His teammates included Toronto Raptors forward Julian Wright, Freddie Barnes, who set an NCAA football record with 155 receptions his senior year at Bowling Green, and Cyrus Tate, a former captain on the Iowa basketball team.
Despite those impressive credentials, Condotti called Hardy the team’s top player back then.
“That’s a huge honor coming from Coach Condotti,” Hardy said. “He’s been a mentor to me and someone I’ve looked up to for years. With his résumé and the amount of talent that has come through his hands, I appreciate him saying that about me a lot.”
The kind words certainly weren’t without accomplishments to back them up.
The 6-foot Hardy averaged a team-best 15 points, three rebounds and led the team in steals during the state runner-up season.
“We were truly like a family,” Hardy said. “We did everything together, we scouted teams together and we had lunch and dinner together. It was like a brotherhood and that reflected in how we played the game. We had each other’s back and were happy to play our roles for the greater good of the family.
“We took on the personality of Coach Condotti. He was clear and decisive in what he wanted to see happen. He showed confidence in us even during the hard times and that allowed us to play through adversity. He held us accountable from the classroom to the court. We were on a mission.”
H-F Mission Nearly Accomplished
H-F (31-3) beat Moline 41-34 in the state quarterfinals and No. 1 ranked West Aurora 58-46 in the semifinals, but lost to Peoria Central 53-47 in the final.
Peoria featured Shaun Livingston, who now plays for the Milwaukee Bucks.
“We were the state champions in my mind because we couldn’t have had any better of a season,” Condotti said. “We played to the absolute max of our ability. We never had a bad practice. I don’t know if I ever had a team that I never had to discipline or holler at. They were focused and knew what they wanted to do. It was a special group.”
Hardy averaged 11.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.3 steals in three state games.
He was no match, however, for Livingston, who had 27 points and nine rebounds in the championship game.
“Shaun Livingston was a man on a mission,” Hardy said. “There was definitely a sense of disappointment when we lost. We honestly felt like we did everything right and felt like we didn’t get the reward we deserved.
"It was an amazing journey with my teammates and Coach Condotti, people I consider family. I was fortunate to be part of a team that was able to make a run at a state championship. Even though we lost, the relationships and journey we took created success for many of us after high school.”
Hardy credits Wright, Tate, Barnes, Brian Nussbaum, who played at Illinois Wesleyan, and his teammates with making him a better player.
“Not only did they have amazing talent, but they were all great individuals,” Hardy said. “Playing with such great talent challenged me as an individual. I wanted to get better because I didn’t want to be a hindrance to the talent we had on the court.
"A lot of guys looked to me as a leader, and I wanted to be present in the moment and be someone they knew would come through for them. They challenged me to be the best I could be in all aspects of the game.”
COMING THURSDAY: Log on at 6 a.m. Thursday to find out whether basketball remains an important part of Excell Hardy's life. What's he doing now?