Jayden Gardner reveals the key reason he ended up at Virginia
Coaches were promising Jayden Gardner the world. The rugged 6’8”, 235-pound junior landed at Virginia because Tony Bennett didn’t promise him anything.
“He’s just a different guy, like, it’s a whole different feel, you know? He’s just you’re going recruit you off, you know, being genuine,” said Gardner, one of the most sought-after players to enter the transfer portal this spring, after averaging 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game at East Carolina in 2020-2021.
Despite the gawdy numbers, Gardner has a bit of a chip on his shoulder, dating back to his high school days, in which he averaged 24.3 points and 13.9 rebounds per game while leading Heritage High School (Wake Forest, N.C.) to the North Carolina Class 4A state championship game in 2018, but was rated just a three-star recruit, with offers from ECU, JMU, ODU, Grambling State and College of Charleston.
Gardner, growing up on Tobacco Road, has always considered himself an ACC guy.
Now he’ll get the chance to prove himself.
“People have been down me my whole life. The only way I can prove the doubters wrong is just keep working, prove them wrong. So whatever they say I can’t do, we’ll see when when the ball rolls this fall,” Gardner said.
A power forward in every sense of the term, Gardner will bring toughness, which was lacking in the 2020-2021 ‘Hoos. He said Bennett told him this past year’s team was “more about finesse and skill, and there was a lack of toughness, and I was a tough guy they need and a presence they need and also a guy that can do multiple things on the court. Toughness was a big one.”
It’s not all toughness and grit, though.
“The way I approach the game is just, I’m going to attack you know, I mean, but as the years have progressed, I’ve become more skilled,” Gardner said. “I can face you up, I can jab step, shoot it, I can face up, drive it, I can post if it’s there, I can drive on the perimeter. I feel I can do a whole bunch of different things on the court, which was I think, really, it was just why the AAC viewed me as a mismatch nightmare. They didn’t know who to put on me, whether I was a big or a guard.”
Gardner would seem to equate well to what Anthony Gill was at the four for Bennett’s teams in the mid-2010s – a big who can score in the post, score off pick-and-pops, can dive to the rim off screens, can punish opponents on the boards, and get to the line.
That last item could be key for Virginia, which attempted just 11.5 free-throw attempts per game in 2020-2021.
In his three-year career at East Carolina, Gardner averaged 7.1 free-throw attempts per game all by himself.
Gardner will be rooming with another incoming transfer, guard Armaan Franklin, with both expecting to arrive on Grounds in June.
When he gets to Charlottesville, Gardner said his focus will be on learning the Pack Line defense, continuing his development as a post player, and then working on his three-point shooting, which can make him even more of a force in Virginia’s mover-blocker offense.
And also, getting better as a person.
Gardner describes himself as being “really big on faith,” and cited a connection with Bennett on faith as being maybe the biggest reason he ended up at Virginia.
“Just, like, me praying about it, and just, you know, if the if the Lord wants me to be here, then he’ll let it happen, you know what I mean?” Gardner said. “A lot of his recruiting was just different, you know? I mean, like, me and him being you know, faithful believers in God is just that, that just put it to the whole other level. So, plus all the other stuff, ACC, Virginia, all this, it was just, what else could I ask?”
Story by Chris Graham