Marquette’s Gardner growing into crucial force off bench, coming into his own after shy youth

first_img Published on February 26, 2013 at 11:55 pm Davante Gardner always stuck out in middle school. The teenager who would eventually develop a 6-foot-8-inch, 290-pound frame towered over his classmates when he walked through the halls.Though he stood out physically, Gardner struggled to express himself in the classroom because of a cautious and shy personality.“He was very quiet, usually had one-word answers,” Gardner’s middle school physical education teacher and high school basketball coach Joshua Worrell said. “He was shy and passive, and it lasted throughout most of high school.”Now a junior at Marquette, Gardner comes off of the bench as one of the elite reserves in the Big East. His efficient play has helped Marquette climb to second place in the Big East standings.Defense and stamina limit Gardner’s playing time, but his size, offensive skill set and on-court communication make him an indispensible part of Marquette’s rotation this season.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textGardner first flashed his athletic ability in middle school gym class, Worrell said. He saw Gardner dominate in gym class games. Worrell even witnessed him channel his height into a volleyball skill.When he made the varsity basketball team at King’s Fork High School in Suffolk, Va., Gardner had a big body and basic post skills, Worrell said. He had his way with opponents around the rim and, despite his size, showed a soft touch with his shot.“If you put him in a three-point shooting competition in high school, he’d probably win every time,” Worrell said.Gardner’s shyness dissolved before his senior year, Worrell said. Gardner led King’s Fork to a state championship his junior year, and he established himself as a vocal leader shortly thereafter.His vocal expression helped Marquette this season, Worrell said. A fiery competitor, he brings out intensity in his teammates.Gardner’s development as a vocal leader has come with his development into a balanced player. Gardner has refined specific skills at both ends of the court this season, Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. Prior to this season, Gardner provided scoring in short spurts, he said.Gardner scores efficiently in limited playing time at Marquette. In his freshman year, he scored 4.6 points in nine minutes per game. Last season, he scored 9.5 points in 19.1 minutes per game.This year, Williams plays Gardner more, and he’s responded with 12.1 points in 21.3 minutes per game. He ranks second on the team in scoring, despite coming off of the bench.In each season of his college career, Gardner has shot better than 56 percent from the field and more than 75 percent from the free-throw line, a combination rarely seen from a player his size.Gardner had to score more frequently early in the season due to a lack of perimeter scoring, Williams said. As the season progressed, guards Junior Cadougan, Trent Lockett and Todd Mayo asserted themselves offensively, and the Golden Eagles relied on Gardner’s scoring less often.Reduced offensive pressure gave Gardner the opportunity to work on other aspects of his game, including defense.“He’s much better defensively, he plays harder,” Williams said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference on Thursday. ”He’s a lot better in ball screen coverages. All of the things he’s been deficient at in his first two years, he’s improved at.”Gardner showed his ability to take over games Monday night against No. 12 Syracuse. Gardner dominated the offensive glass, shrugged off contact and showed his deft shooting touch on the way to a career-high 26 points along with eight rebounds. He made all seven field goals he took, as well as 12-of-13 free throws.The Marquette crowd chanted “Automatic!” when Gardner shot free throws Monday.“I like when they do that, it doesn’t distract me,” Gardner told reporters Monday with a laugh.The gawky, shy kid has developed into a physical force in college basketball. While his game has improved by leaps and bounds, Williams knows he hasn’t seen the best of Gardner.“I don’t think he’s hit his ceiling yet,” Williams said. “I think he’s a guy that can have a presence on both ends of the floor, as opposed to one, like he has the past two years.” Comments Related Stories DROPOUT: Gardner scores 18 2nd-half points for Marquette, Syracuse fades down stretch in 2nd-straight losscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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