TEUTOPOLIS – Mitch Hardiek was sleeping until suddenly the school bus lurched and tipped over on its passenger side.
The Teutopolis senior was unharmed, but jarred nonetheless.
“I don't really remember anymore to be honest,” Hardiek said. “I was in the driver's side of the seat and I remember I was sleeping. It happened really quick. It was a life-changing experience.”
It unfolded in seconds after a white van struck the bus while the Teutopolis boys basketball team was on its way to a road game in Lincoln on a Friday afternoon in February.
The fortunate news was that only a few passengers had minor injuries.
The Shoes incredibly returned to the hardwood the next day and quickly demolished Marshall 73-35, led by none other than Hardiek with a team-high 17 points.
“We were pumped up to play,” Hardiek said. “We wanted to come out and show we weren't hurt at all and still ready to go. We really came out and gave it all we had and kicked some butt in that game.”
It was an emotional season full of twists and turns.
Somehow Hardiek stayed on course the entire way and finished with 18.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game for H&R area Player of the Year.
“It was definitely the most I've ever been through,” Hardiek said.
Hardiek was a daunting prospect for any opponent.
He had a slew of options at his disposal. He could either light it up from long range against a bigger team or post up and bulldoze his way to the hoop against a smaller group.
"Mitch could almost play from any position defensively or offensively," Teutopolis coach Jason Hanson said. "That was the big thing. He was so versatile it was easy to have him on the court for any situation."
Hardiek didn't have any preference. Guard or forward, it didn't matter. He was equally skilled at either position.
"It just depends on the game and who's guarding me," Hardiek said. "I could do both."
You have free articles remaining.
Hardiek, a Lincoln Land Community College commit, particularly elevated his post game. That stemmed from his time in the weight room.
He initially started high school at a lean 5-foot-11, 125 pounds and transformed into a formidable 6-foot-3, 190 pounds by the end of his senior year, after developing a workout regimen with a personal trainer, Cody Griffin, his sophomore and junior years.
It was certainly his biggest priority this past summer and visited the high school four times a week with a couple of his teammates, including his cousin Lee Hardiek and Dawson Smith. It included shooting drills for around 30 minutes and weightlifting for an hour.
"I didn't play any summer ball," Hardiek said. "I just practiced all of my stuff in the gym and I was weightlifting to improve my body. During the summer is the time you can really work on your body strength and improve your jumping and your speed and become a better player that way."
Hardiek didn't lack mental toughness, either.
A series of setbacks -- larger than the game of basketball itself -- started with the worst news of all around Christmas break: teammate Lucas Deters' father, Ronnie, was diagnosed with recurring leukemia and needed a second round of treatment.
Teutopolis later lost senior point guard and top defender Chris Ungrund for the season with a back injury, then came the bus accident.
Despite no serious injuries, the team's backup point guard, Brock Bueker, missed three games due to the crash and wasn't quite the same player again in the postseason.
"All of those combination of things were tough to deal with," Hanson said. "We still came back and played exceptionally well at times after all of that. It's just a credit to our guys, including Mitch and the rest of the guys, that they were able to step out there and compete and give their best."
It perhaps all culminated with arguably the Shoes' best game of the year and Hardiek's favorite memory in the regional championship against Pana.
There, Hardiek emphatically slammed down an alley-oop from Bueker in the first quarter and Teutopolis romped 68-35.
"I threw it down as hard as I could," Hardiek said. "I came down fired up and the team was all fired up. That was a fun moment right there."
It was that strength and athleticism that set him apart.
"There were games he had two or three dunks in a game," Hanson said. "It was in a variety of ways whether he would get a steal and dunk it, off an alley-oop or just getting in transition.
"There's a lot of plays he made in the course of the year that were pretty exceptional."