Wichita State senior Alex Harden missed Missouri Valley Conference media day in October because of an anatomy lab.
“We were inside a cat, necturus, a shark and a brain,” Harden said. “The smell wasn’t great.”
Well, somebody needs to study Harden’s anatomy.
How does she play almost every minute of every game – Harden has missed only one game in her career – and produce so much?
The 5-foot-11 Harden didn’t play on Dec. 28 against Sam Houston because of an illness. She wanted to play, but the WSU coaches decided she needed to rest.
To which Harden likely said: “Rest? What is rest?”
She averages 15.4 points and 6.5 rebounds, has played at least 31 minutes in 27 consecutive games in which she has appeared. And she’s been at 35 minutes or more in all but four of those 27.
“It’s a source of pride,” Harden said of her endurance. “But the biggest thing is that we’re on a countdown now as to how many college games I have left. There’s no reason to hold back.”
If Harden continues to play and produce the way she has so far this season, she’s on pace to challenge Allison Daniel as the Shockers’ career scoring leader. Daniel has held that distinction since 1986.
Harden is also on her way to top five rankings in steals, assists and blocked shots and could get to as high as No. 7 on the Shockers’ career rebounding list.
Is she the greatest Shocker women’s basketball player of all-time? Given the team’s success during Harden’s career, and her own production, a strong case can be made.
“She’s a phenomenal athlete and gifted IQ-wise, too,” Wichita State coach Jody Adams said. “When she first came into the program, she wasn’t a starter until a little later during her freshman year. She’s really worked on her skill set and in bettering herself. She wants to be great, she’s not content with average.”
With Harden as a mainstay, the Shockers are 81-33 over the past four seasons, which includes the program’s first two Missouri Valley Conference championships, conference tournament title and first two NCAA Tournaments.
WSU’s previous best record over a four-year stretch was 66-48 from 1996-97 through 1999-2000.
“Alex came in under a great group of girls (Jessica Diamond, Haleigh Lankster, Chynna Turner, Jazimen Gordon, Michelle Price) that really started this program when there was nothing here,” Adams said. “They believed in a coach’s dream. So she was groomed by her peers on how to practice and how to change the environment here. She bought in. She’s told me she came to Wichita State because she wanted somebody to push her and make her great.”
And, as evidenced by her studies of anatomy, chemistry and biology, Harden doesn’t restrict her focus and dedication to basketball.
She plans to attend medical school and become a physician, perhaps a pediatrician or obstetrician.
Besides the rigors of basketball, which are intense, her class schedule often borders on ridiculous.
Harden said every semester has been difficult academically, but her course load last semester was the toughest yet.
It included Organic Chemistry II, Comparative Anatomy, Microbiology and Leadership in Self and Society.
“Eighteen hours,” she said. “You don’t make it through sane, but you get it done. You just have to figure out a way to get it done. Becoming a doctor is something I want to do with my life and you make sacrifices as a college athlete in general. You have basketball and you have school and that’s what you do.”
Harden said she’s learned to be organized because of the structure playing basketball for Adams has given her.
“We had block schedules my freshman year and it literally told you every 15 minutes what you needed to do,” Harden said. “It told us when to eat breakfast. I thought it was a suggestion, but you learn really quickly that it’s exactly what you need to be doing. East breakfast, eat dinner, study, watch film, do some extra shooting with the coaches and then sleep.”
Let’s just say Harden doesn’t have a video game habit she has to feed or anything like that. There’s a military nature to her existence and she’s comforted by that.
“I try not to procrastinate,” Harden said. “But I did a little bit of that last semester.”
Harden, from Springfield, Ill., wants to play professionally next season and plans to move closer to her family, which is now in Alabama. She’s going to take a year, she said, before starting medical school.
Harden had 11 steals in a recent game against Indiana State. She has scored 20 or more points in four of her past seven games. She’s unselfish and a two-time defending MVC defensive player of the year.
Add her accomplishments in the classroom and you’ve got Wonder Woman.
“We had so many leaders here when I arrived,” Harden said. “All of them, in their own ways, made me want to follow them and mimic exactly how they worked.”
Harden has taken work to another level.
Leader – Alison Daniel (1982-86) 1,638
Harden – 1,347, on pace for 1,655
Leader – Angela Buckner (2000-04) 1,297
Harden – 568, on pace for 698
Leader – Lateesha Hill (1996-2000) 300
Harden – 211, on pace for 274
Leader – Kathy Garofalo (1978-82) 476
Harden – 364, on pace for 426
Leader – Theresa Dreiling (1979-83) 256
Harden – 94, on pace for 109