Surrounded by community, Bowen Hardman signs for Ohio State on emotional day

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

CINCINNATI – Six years have passed since Al Chang told Bowen Hardman about how their future would play out.

Hardman was in sixth grade in the Princeton school district when he began playing for the “The Pride Youth Program.” Founded by Chang to focus on youth basketball and provide support for the district’s younger talent, Hardman was starting to get serious about the game when Chang made him a promise.

From L-R: Ava, Dawn, Bowen and Chaylee Hardman. Bowen Hardman signed to play for Ohio State in a ceremony at Cincinnati Princeton High School on November 10, 2021.

Chang would always be his coach, he said, long after his time officially coaching him was complete. Wednesday afternoon, inside the high school’s Viking Room, Chang was part of a standing-room-only crowd on hand to see Hardman officially sign as a member of Ohio State’s 2022 recruiting class.

“Bowen has the ‘it’ factor,” Chang said. “Great personality, a great student, great in the community. He comes from great, great parents and he’s a great person. Today is really a true testament to faith, hard work, commitment and trust.”

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On a day that started with a standard 5:30 a.m. shooting workout, Hardman sat at a carefully adorned table with his mom, Dawn, to his right, sister Ava to her right and other sister Chaylee to his left. Scattered around three Ohio State hats and three Ohio State basketball shirts were four framed photos primarily featuring Bowen and his father, David.

There was also a space purposely left at the table where a fifth chair could fit. Bowen said it was where his dad, who passed away in March, 2019, after a battle with multiple myeloma, could have been. He was 43.

“I know that they had an extra seat for him,” Bowen said of his father. “I know he would be looking down on me, very proud of me. He goes through my mind every day, what I’ve got to work for just to keep grinding and moving forward. To work to be not just the best for myself but for my family, for those around me.”

Cincinnati Princeton senior Bowen Hardman (left) poses with longtime family friend and coach Al Chang after signing to play for Ohio State in the class of 2022.

Those emotions were never far from the joy of the day. Cheers of “O-H!” were exchanged during the ceremony that saw multiple school officials speak on Hardman’s behalf in front of a crowd largely clad in scarlet and gray. Bowen’s grandmother Tootie Hardman, David’s mom, brought Block ‘O’ shaped cookies to the celebration, and the future Ohio State guard posed for what seemed like dozens of photos with friends and family.

As the official proceedings were about to get underway, Dawn Hardman grabbed a box of tissues and headed to sit next to her son. As Princeton coach Bryan Wyant called Hardman “the best leader I’ve come across” in 15 years of coaching, mom wiped away tears while looking proudly at Bowen.

“It’s amazing to hear people speak how I feel about him and how proud I am of him, not only being a basketball player but in the classroom,” she said. “It’s very emotional because we’ve known these people for a long time, and to see where Bowen is going, it makes me very emotional to hear such kinds words. I’m grateful they see what I see in him.”

What the Buckeyes see in him is a dangerous shooter who can make a bigger impact than his national recruiting rankings might otherwise indicate. A three-star recruit in the composite database, Hardman is ranked No. 297 nationally, No. 9 in Ohio and as the No. 48 shooting guard in the nation. As a junior, he averaged 15.1 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 37.3% (40 for 107) from three-point range.

Chang saw that in sixth grade, when Hardman’s team won a championship thanks to his game-winning shot in the final seconds and a game-saving block by one of his teammates. It’s a memory that has gained emotional heft in the ensuing years.

“It was an exciting time because that was a day that his dad was there,” Chang said. “There was just a great connection. It was surreal, but it was one of the happiest days that I had seen him as a young man.”

This Wednesday that began before the son rose featured a full day of school that includes a basketball class, a press conference, practice and then extra shooting. After leaving home around 5 a.m., Hardman wouldn’t return until nearly 8 p.m. in what is a typical day in the life for the senior.

At the end of it all, in a room with his extensive shoe collection that numbers north of 80 pairs, Hardman said he’ll have a few final thoughts run through his head before passing out and doing most of it all over again.

“I think the last thing that’ll be going through my head is, ‘I did it. I got through my signing day,’ ” he said. “But I also think it’s going to be a waking up. It’s a new journey in life. You don’t know how many guys get this opportunity. I’m not gonna take it for granted at all.

“I definitely think that will be the last thought, but also thinking of my mom and dad.”