Wichita State Shockers

Focus on basketball pays off for WSU’s Harden

Alex Harden probably could have been a Division I track athlete. Or maybe a volleyball player. Or softball. Or soccer.

So it comes as no surprise to those who know her that when Harden choose to focus on basketball at Wichita State, her athletic ability stood out.

Harden has been the best player on the best team in the Missouri Valley, as the Shockers (16-6, 10-0) play host to Bradley on Sunday afternoon at Koch Arena.

So, yes, Harden is pretty pleased with the decision to focus on basketball and academics.

“Basketball was always my first love,” said Harden, who is among the team leaders in nearly every statistic in MVC play. “I talked to a lot of older people that had played sports in college and they always told me to do the sport that you love because you’re not going to want to get up and work out for the sports that you don’t love.”

Harden was dominant competing for Springfield (Ill.) Southeast in one of the smaller high school classifications in Illinois. She was an eight-time state champion, including winning the long jump all four years, the triple jump twice and running winning legs on 400-meter and 800-meter relay teams. She also ran all three of the open sprints and high jumped during the season. For reference, the winning long jump in her senior season (19 feet, 5¾ inches) would have won in any class at the 2012 Kansas meet.

Her leaping ability and explosion translate well to the basketball court.

“It’s just her body,” coach Jody Adams said. “She’s a 5-foot-11 body and when she goes up to jump for the ball, she just moves you out of her way on the way up. You can’t beat that. You’re either gifted with it or you’re not, and she’s gifted with it.”

Then there is the sprinting parallel that Adams occasionally brings up during practices.

“She’ll tell me, ‘You’re too fast not to sprint and get ahead. Don’t let anybody beat you,’ ” Harden said. “But in track, there’s a line that you run to and then stop at. On the court, you’re in a box and you have to keep going and maneuver yourself around.”

In conference games, Harden is averaging 12.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and shooting 51 percent. All of those marks, plus 1.6 steals and 0.9 blocks, are either first or second on the team.

And Harden claims that she’s still getting used to gearing all of her moves to basketball. There are still times when she will go off the wrong foot or be a little off-balance because of habits from another sport.

“You never really erase them,” Harden said. “It’s just repetition on what I’m practicing on now. I have to stay square to stay balanced because that’s the only way I can take advantage of my athleticism. I’m getting there.”