Roger Harden played for a Who's Who of prep and college basketball coaches, and is taking the chance to make his mark in the Kentucky prep ranks.
After the former Valparaiso High School basketball star and 1982 Mr. Basketball went on to a stellar college career at the University of Kentucky, Harden was recently named boys basketball coach at Williamstown (Ky.) Junior/Senior High School.
He played for Joe B. Hall and Eddie Sutton, then later coached under Sutton for the storied UK program. He played for Indiana Hall of Fame coach Skip Collins at Valparaiso, and also was under the tutelage of Pat Riley when he was in the Los Angeles Lakers camp. When Harden took the job at Williamstown, he went back to his roots.
"I spent a few days in Mr. Collins' basement just asking questions and taking notes," Harden said. "I took four pages of notes and soaked up everything he told me.
"The coaching in Indiana, on the high-school level, is so much better than anywhere else, especially with the teaching of the fundamentals."
Harden said it would not be a lesson from Skip Collins without being told about the importance of free-throw shooting. Collins' teams set records for making free throws.
"I had great coaches, and Mr. Collins and the staff are a big reason for who I am today," Harden said. "My parents (Al and Myrna) all had a big influence on my life."
Collins has nothing but confidence in Harden and expects him to be as successful a coach as he was a player.
"Roger is determined and eager," Collins said. "The fact he is talking to former coaches and willing to learn shows you just how dedicated he is to being a good coach. He was willing to drive up here and sit with me and listen."
Williamstown is the hometown of Harden's wife, Gina. It is a small school with an enrollment of 426 students in grades 6-12 in a state with single-class basketball. Harden likes it.
"I am a one-class guy," Harden said. "We have a state tournament in December for just the small schools and I think that is a way we kept the one-class system.
"I think we look at what Indiana did and we use that as a reason for one class."
He said the Kentucky state tournament is a week-long festival with 16 teams going to the state finals.
He said it was amazing to win the Mr. Basketball award, especially being from Northwest Indiana. He was also a Parade and McDonald's All-American.
"It was really a great thing and an honor to win it," Harden said. "It brought some fame to the basketball program and it was really a tribute to my coaches and teammates. I won Mr. Basketball, but you can't win it alone. We had some great guys on that team."
As much as he was recruited, he said it was a different era with no twitters, Facebook or text messaging.
"Coaches came to the gym to see you play and AAU wasn't there," Harden said. "We had a lot of fun playing and being part of a program with such a great tradition."
At Williamstown, Harden is not putting an emphasis on wins or losses while his team works on the fundamentals.
"We got some good players and they are all hard workers," Harden said. "Patience is the key for me and being a teacher. A lot of good players were not good coaches.
"I tell the kids that I was good not because I was a superior athlete, but because I worked hard."