ATLANTA – For years, many knew Tim Hardaway Jr. mainly by his last name, and not his talents.
The son of former NBA all-star Tim Hardaway Sr. -- the creator of the killer crossover -- came to Michigan as his father’s son, not a top-100 recruit (No. 93 in the class of 2010 per ESPN Recruiting Nation).
“When I first got here, there were a lot of articles, ‘Tim Hardaway’s son,’” he said. “Now, it’s 'Tim Hardaway Jr.' So, I’m kind of happy about that. And that’s just a lot of sacrifices going into the gym a lot, not hanging out with your friends [or] hanging out with your family as much, going to the gym this summer working on your game and just doing a great job of just staying humble.”
It was an easy storyline for Hardaway and the program, which also featured two other players with fathers who played in the NBA -- Jon Horford (son of Tito Horford and the brother of NBA forward Al Horford) and Jordan Dumars (son of Joe Dumars who transferred in 2011). Freshman Glenn Robinson III is the son of former Milwaukee Bucks all-star Glenn Robinson Jr.
But Hardaway’s personal improvements were often lost in the convenient tale that limited his ability to establish his own legacy.
That’s no longer the case.
Hardaway has been a leader in Michigan’s journey to Monday’s national title game against Louisville at the Georgia Dome. And in a few weeks, he’ll probably turn pro. He’s a second-round prospect per ESPN.com's Chad Ford.
He’ll have a chance to etch his name into Michigan’s college basketball timeline forever if he helps the Wolverines deliver a title to Ann Arbor for the first time since 1989.
“We thought about that. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that,” Hardaway said.
To reach this point, Hardaway recognized that he had to make sacrifices.
Prior to his sophomore season, Hardaway spent his offseason with family in Miami and in Latvia and Colorado Springs, Colo., with the national team that competed in the 2011 FIBA U19 World Championship. The latter helped Hardaway crack the radar of pro scouts.
But it didn’t help his team’s chemistry. He didn’t connect with Trey Burke, who was prepping for his first season, because he wasn’t on campus.
Last summer, however, Hardaway changed.
He passed on chances to compete in multiple all-star games and camps to work with his teammates in the offseason. The junior formed stronger bonds with players through basketball and off-court activities, such as video games -- something he opposed prior to last summer.
“I felt like I really wasn’t able to bond with Trey the year before last when he was coming in as a freshman because I was playing on the USA team. So it was tough to really get that bond,” Hardaway said. “I only had two, three weeks with him in the summer and then, I was gone back home. So I sacrificed a lot not going to these camps, not going to certain places to showcase my talent and stay with my team and stay with my freshmen because I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.”
That’s why his teammates respect him as a leader.
“I think he’s evolved mostly in the mental aspect of his game,” Jordan Morgan said. “He’s obviously developed his ballhandling to where he can bring the ball up the floor for us, but his mental game has developed so much. Early in his career, he would get frustrated easily and almost check out of games. He’s been really great with that this year and first of all, accepting coaching from his teammates, telling him stay encouraged and stay engaged, and doing a good job of bouncing back from mistakes that he made.”
This season, Hardaway is averaging 14.6 points (43.8 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from the 3-point line), 4.6 assists and 2.4 assists. They’re numbers that have impressed some NBA scouts who believe in the 6-foot-6 wing’s pro potential. A next-level performance against a Louisville team that’s ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy would certainly elevate his draft stock.
The buzz surrounding Hardaway has certainly changed since his freshman season.
He’s now the veteran who has helped Michigan reach its first national title game since the Fab Five carried the program there in 1993. And his father is now just another proud parent in the crowd sporting a Michigan hat, while his son continues to grow.
He’ll always be Tim Hardaway’s son.
But, his father doesn’t have a national title.
“You don’t want to make any highlight reels,” he said about Monday’s opportunity. “You just want to be solid and make good plays. Good plays will lead to great play and you’ll probably end up winning.”