Love and basketball: How this husband and wife make life at home and on the court work — while playing for different schools
Former BYU player Connor Harding now laces up his high-tops for Utah Valley, but his wife Paisley remains at BYU, where she’s a star for the Cougars
Ferris Bueller said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Forgive Connor and Paisley Harding if you catch them soaking in the scene at the UCCU Center tonight when No. 12 BYU plays at Utah Valley (7 p.m. on BYUtv).
BYU, UVU on the air
No. 12 BYU (6-0)
at Utah Valley University (6-1)
Wednesday, 7 p.m. MST
Radio: BYU Radio/1160 AM
The Hardings have been in the fast lane since the moment they tied the knot on May 1, 2020. Getting married during a pandemic taught them how to roll with the punches.
Seven months later, on Nov. 28, Connor started and scored 11 points to lead BYU to an 82-60 win over Utah Valley. As he walked off the Marriott Center floor that night, he couldn’t imagine that one year later, he would be starting for Utah Valley — against BYU.
“No idea,” he said. “I didn’t know I was going to leave. I never thought I would be at UVU or anywhere else, but here I am, wearing green, white and black.”
Harding’s playing time at BYU was reduced over the course of the 2020-21 season and the junior and former Idaho prep Gatorade Player of the Year from Pocatello, chose to enter the transfer portal and evaluate his options — and he had plenty.
Harding also knew that Paisley was preparing for her final season on the BYU women’s basketball team — a squad that has started 7-0 and is ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25.
“I told him if he wanted to go out there and keep playing, no matter where it was that we would make it work,” Paisley said. “But I’m super happy that he chose to stay close. He is such a family man and I have been blessed to have him in my life.”
Connor chose Utah Valley — a campus in Orem that is just four miles from BYU.
“There is a bigger plan for us,” he said. “I ended up in a good system that fits me and I’m learning from one of the best in Mark Madsen.”
“I didn’t know I was going to leave. I never thought I would be at UVU or anywhere else, but here I am, wearing green, white and black.” — Connor Harding
Harding and the Wolverines are 6-1 this season. His 11.9 points per game average is second best on the team behind star center Fardaws Aimaq.
“Connor has come in and been absolutely fantastic,” said Utah Valley coach Mark Madsen. “We’ve had him play every position except the center. He can do so many things on the court and his basketball IQ is off the charts.”
Harding figures to be a key factor in the outcome tonight and his former head coach is very aware of what he brings to the table.
“Sometimes a change is good,” said BYU coach Mark Pope. “Connor has taken a massive leadership role with that team. He’s the lead dog, the lead voice and he is a terrific player.”
Paisley shares a similar role on the Cougars. Her leadership and toughness have been polished through 91 career starts and like her husband, she is the second leading scorer on her squad — averaging 15 points.
Paisley’s head coach is a very big fan of Connor’s decision to stay close for several reasons.
“Connor made a big sacrifice,” said BYU women’s coach Jeff Judkins. “He could have gone other places, bigger places, but he didn’t want to do that to Paisley. He wanted her to have a great final year. They are very supportive of each other. Being dual athletes is hard to do. They have found a way to balance their time together. It’s the only way it works.”
In addition to high-level athletes, both have become cheerleaders and coaches for each other — even as their schools compete.
“She is my biggest fan,” Connor said. “We celebrate each other’s successes, and it doesn’t matter where you are at. I think that’s a good way to live life.”
“He sees the game much different than I do,” said Paisley. “It’s so nice to talk to him after our games and get an outside perspective.”
Paisley’s Cougars put their unbeaten record and national ranking on the line Saturday night at Utah.
“She has gotten better every year,” said Judkins. “They have both made each other better players.”
Connor’s biggest moment so far at Utah Valley came in a familiar setting at Pepperdine. His former Cougars teams had battled in Firestone Arena during the three previous years — only there was one noticeable difference.
“There weren’t many people in attendance,” Connor said. “I told the team how this place was packed every time BYU played here. I always felt that love from the fans wherever we traveled.”
Harding sank a 3-point shot as time expired to force overtime against the Waves. He opened the extra period with another 3-pointer and carried the Wolverines to an 86-74 victory.
“He is such an even-keeled person, very businesslike in his approach,” Madsen said. “He’s been great in every game.”
Harding played three seasons for the Cougars, including 12 starts on last year’s NCAA Tournament team. Tonight, he will face his old friends with his new ones on BYUtv where he has performed many times.
“My emotions will definitely be high,” he said. “You want to compete and prove yourself, but I’ll try to stay calm and let the game come to me.”
Paisley’s advice — “play loose, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and have fun.”
The UCCU Center is expecting a sellout when BYU and Utah Valley put their respective six-game winning streaks on the line. Connor has been assured that at least one Cougar fan will be in his corner no matter the outcome.
“I’m still a BYU fan,” Paisley said. “But I’ll be wearing my UVU gear tonight!”
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.