BOISE, Idaho — Every BYU fan knows all about Taysom Hill, the former star Cougar quarterback who has been dubbed the National Football League’s “Swiss Army knife” because his astounding athletic abilities that have enabled him to play, and excel, at multiple positions and do a little bit of everything for the New Orleans Saints.
Well, the BYU basketball program has its own version of a “Swiss Army knife.” His name is Connor Harding, a 6-foot-6, 185-pound sophomore who plays multiple positions and can do a little bit of everything.
It just so happens that Harding hails from Hill’s same hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, and they both attended Highland High School. Harding, like Hill, played quarterback at Highland High as a senior. In fact, for years, they lived near each other.
“You could throw a rock across the way and hit his house from my house,” Harding said. “My brother was best friends with Taysom Hill. Our families grew up together, we hunted together, we fished together. We played sports growing up. It’s always been a competitive neighborhood.”
Harding has returned to his home state of Idaho as BYU visits Boise State Wednesday (8 p.m., MST, CBS Sports Network) at ExtraMile Arena.
He’ll be joined by another Idaho native, forward Kolby Lee, who’s from Meridian. Lee is coming off a career performance in a 72-71 win at Houston last Friday with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
“I love playing for my state, Idaho. It’s always good to go back and represent your state and where you came from,” Harding said. “I’ll have a bunch of friends and family at the game. It’s great to see some people you haven’t seen in a while, and you get to play in front of your family that gets to watch you.”
It’s likely that they’ll watch Harding do what he’s done through the first four games of the season: come off the bench and hit a crucial 3-pointer or key free throws; grab rebounds; and make defensive stops. He can play four different positions on the court, from point guard to power forward.
With Yoeli Childs serving a nine-game NCAA suspension, Harding and his teammates have been called on to help compensate for that big void in the lineup.
“Man, he’s been really good. He’s been quietly doing his thing. In some instances, with some matchups, he’s our best defensive player,” coach Mark Pope said of Harding. “He’s been really, really solid offensively. He’s shooting the ball pretty well for us and he’s owning every shot. Clearly, he might be the one on the team that adopted that more than anybody else. He’s made a couple of big free throws for us down the stretch. We don’t have him playing much point right now, but he’s capable of playing the point.”
Though he averages only 22 minutes per game, Harding is tied with Dalton Nixon for the team lead in rebounding (4.8 per game). He’s also averaging 7.5 points and is shooting 56% from the field, 55.6% from 3-point range and 87% from the free-throw line. He’s also dished out seven assists.
Harding relishes his role on this team, coming off the bench, contributing whatever he can and providing a spark.
“I absolutely love it. I get to watch the game a little bit and get a little feel for it. Then I get to go in there and get rebounds or stop someone or make a 3. Whatever it takes. If I’m doing good, I’ll stay out there. Coming off the bench, you can make a big run,” he said. “It’s great because you have to use your basketball IQ. You’re guarding a point guard so sometimes you have to play off of him. You have to do different techniques. Then you’re a big man and you’re fronting and battling down there and shoving in the paint. It’s just a challenge. I never know what position I’m going to play. You’ve just got to be ready to go in for whoever gets hurt or whoever gets tired and wherever we need to pick it up a little bit.”
Certainly, Hill has had a big influence on Harding and his career.
“He’s just a freak athlete. He’s bouncing back from injuries. He’s doing whatever it takes. I love that,” Harding said of Hill. “As I go on the court, it’s whatever it takes to win. That’s what competitors do.”
This season, Harding is much more comfortable than he was a year ago as a freshman, when he had recently returned home from his mission in June 2018 for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Atlanta, Georgia.
With a full offseason to train and practice, Harding is playing at a different level now.
“Last year, maybe there were times when the moment might have felt a little big to him,” Pope said. “I don’t think it feels big to him right now. I think he’s like, ‘I’m going to do my job’ and he knows what it is. I think his ceiling is really high.”
Harding has embraced his role, whatever it might be.
“It doesn’t matter as long I’m just out there and I can defend and do whatever it takes to get a win,” he said. “At the end of the (Houston) game, they put me at the four but I was guarding the one. It gets interesting, all the matchups and the different situations that we get put in.”
Taysom Hill can relate.
BYU (3-1) at Boise State (1-2)
Wednesday, 8 p.m. MST
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM