Watching J.P. Harding down in the paint you’ll see him drop-step low post or face-up spin. He may remind you of someone.
That’s because his father, Javon Harding, was one of the top Suffolk County basketball players his junior year in 1995 and was also a member of the first of three state championship-winning teams a year later. The pair not only share some of the same moves, but the same jersey number (44), and December 11 they became the first father-son duo in Bridgehampton history to score 1000 points apiece.
“I’ve loved this game for so long,” said Harding. “I’ve loved the competition, always wanted to learn, and am blessed to be given the opportunity to compete at a high level every game. I’m thankful I’m able to contribute as much as I can and follow in my father’s footsteps.”
Scoring 1,000 points was a long-term goal the senior set for himself when he decided to transfer from Riverhead to Bridgehampton to play under his father’s former coach Carl Johnson, who led the team for 27 years until his retirement when Harding was a sophomore. He knew he needed 21 points to achieve the feat, but J.P. didn’t know he’d accomplish it so soon during the Killer Bees’ 80-62 nonleague win over Port Jefferson on December 11. Harding only realized what he’d done when head coach Ron White called timeout as his mother let out a scream. He etched his name in the record book in the second quarter on a layup in transition off a pass from teammate Nae’Jon Ward.
“I waited my whole career for that moment — it meant a lot to me,” Harding said. “I came to Bridgehampton because I wanted to continue the legacy, which I knew would make my father very proud. It’s very special knowing we’ll have our names on the banner together forever.”
Harding scored another eight points in the second quarter on his way to a game-high 37 points and 11 rebounds. He scored another 34 points and 13 rebounds since then in the team’s League VII opener, an 85-55 win at Southold December 14. His father said it’s been astonishing seeing all his son’s been able to achieve on and off the court.
“I live my old days through his eyes,” he said. “It’s like watching myself back in the day. And I’m proud of him. It’s a great feeling to see your son achieve things in life and mature and grow into a great young man.”
He said he’s especially excited to see all his son’s hard work pay off. The younger Harding has had a ball in his hand since he was 11, playing for Amateur Athletic Union coach Nick Thomas, a former teammate of his father’s who now coaches at Center Moriches. He caught the bug quick and since then he’s been playing in AAU, Catholic Youth Organization, and spring and summer leagues to stay on the court year-round.
“Since he was young it’s been basketball, basketball, basketball — I think he’s played more than I have,” his father said with a chuckle. The pair even play competitive one-on-one games at local courts, or three-on-two when J.P.’s brothers want to join in on the fun.
“Everything is a competition in this house,” Javon Harding said, laughing.
J.P. Harding becomes the 16th player in school history to reach 1000 points, joining players like Carl Yastrzemski (1957), Maurice Manning (1998), and Josh Lamison and Tylik Furman, teammates of Harding’s who both reached the career mark in 2016. Manning led the Killer Bees as a sophomore to the state championship in 1996, after Javon Harding’s senior season ended when he suffered a knee injury. Manning’s son Charles led Bridgehampton to a state championship in 2015. Current coach White was also a teammate of Harding’s. His son Elijah plays with the younger Harding now. Basketball seems to run in the family in Bridgehampton.
“People pride themselves on our basketball team. They’re behind the black and gold and the history around our state championships here,” athletic director Michael DeRosa said. “A lot of people are behind J.P. It’s an incredible individual accomplishment that can only be achieved by someone who has invested a lot of time over the years, learned the game, and has a passion for it. And a lot of people are behind this team. The fact that we’re a K-12 building, our youngsters get to see the high schoolers in the hallways, come to the games to see them play, see their success — and want that for themselves.”
Javon Harding said that’s what got him out on the court, while his son said it’s guys like his dad that he tries to emulate. The father said he prides himself on seeing his son be a role model for the Killer Bees of the future.
“It’s been a great experience, and playing in Bridgehampton makes it that much better with all the history it has,” J.P. Harding said. “I’m just very grateful I was given the opportunity to add to the rich tradition here. When I’m out on that court, it feels like home.”