Harding’s leading man status

Fred Jeter | 11/30/2023, 6 p.m.
For three seasons, Tahj Harding sat on the runway, with engines revved, at Virginia Union University. This year he’s taken ...
Tahj Harding Photo by Juan McCall

For three seasons, Tahj Harding sat on the runway, with engines revved, at Virginia Union University.

This year he’s taken off and his only limit is the sky.

The 6-foot-5 redshirt junior with strong VUU family connections has been the leading light for Coach Jay Butler’s remodeled Panthers.

“Tahj has always been a talented player,” said VUU Coach Jay Butler. “He just needed to buy into the system, and it took time.”

After seven games, Harding leads all Panthers with 18 points per game while hitting 39% (13-for-33) from outside the arc and 64% (21-for-33) at the foul line.

He’s also averaged 4.6 rebounds with 12 steals and 13 assists and is a defensive catalyst in VUU’s signature “circle zone.”

VUU lost three headliners (leading scorer Rob Osborne, top rebounder Raemaad Wright and 3-point shooter Keleaf Tate) off last year’s 24-8 squad.

“I like to think of myself as an all-around ballplayer,” Harding said. “I’d like score like Rob, rebound like Raemaad and shoot from outside like Keleaf,” he said. “Whatever Coach Butler wants, that’s what I’ll try and give it to the team.”

Harding, who grew up in Southern Ohio but went to Newport High in Northern Kentucky, has maroon and steel colors in his ancestry.

His father, Todd Harding, played two seasons of VUU football in the late 1980s. His great uncle, Ralph Hunter, was a standout basketball player at VUU under Coach Tom Harris. Hunter was team captain for the 1974-1975 season.

There’s an abundance of athleticism on both sides of Harding’s family. Mother Tonya Bedford starred in track and field, volleyball and basketball at Newport High and is in the school’s Hall of Fame.

Harding’s Newport team was 25-9 in 2019 with a star-studded cast. Me’Kell Burries (Lincoln Memorial, Tenn.), Donnie Miller (Midland, Ky.) and Makhi McGuire (Lee, Tenn.) are all the leading scorers on their college teams, along with Harding at VUU.

Harding was directed to VUU by Newport Coach Rod Snapp, who was friends with VUU Assistant Coach Fred Burroughs.

“I came to the school and played in open gym at Barco Stevens,” Harding recalls of his recruiting visit. “I went against the older players and kind of held my own.”

He quickly became a Panther, but not an overnight success.

His true freshman season, in 2020-2021, was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021-2022, he averaged 11.3 minutes and 5.4 points. Last season he was at 14.5 minutes and 6.2 points. This year’s he’s gone up to 30 minutes and 18 points.

“I felt last year I went from being about the 11th man to sometimes the second option on offense (behind Osborne),” he said.

He will receive his undergraduate degree in special education in the spring and still have another season of eligibility in 2024-25, when he will take graduate classes.

Despite just a so-so résumé, Harding was selected to the preseason All-CIAA team in a vote of conference coaches, who had seen his talent, even if in small sample sizes.

“It’s nice to get that honor,” he said. “But all preseason shows are what people think you might do.

“Being postseason All-CIAA is what counts. It means you got the job done,”