Now that they have a year’s experience in the Tony Bennett system at Virginia, Cavalier starters Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin are looking to bring even more to the table this season.
Gardner, who transferred to UVA after three successful years at East Carolina, brought over his sweet midrange jumper and his rebounding ability. He led the Cavaliers in both scoring (15.3 ppg) and rebounding (6.4 rpg), while shooting 50 percent (219-for-437) from the field in his first year on Grounds.
Franklin, who spent his first two seasons at Indiana, came to Charlottesville with the reputation of an exceptional perimeter shooter. While he had his struggles knocking down triples throughout the season, he found other ways to contribute and provided some memorable moments.
With Gardner deciding to return to Grounds for his one “extra” year of eligibility and Franklin entering his senior season, the pair will certainly be looked to more as leaders in 2022-23.
Gardner enters as a preseason second-team All-ACC selection, and said he’s determined to get better within the Pack-Line after basically having to learn as he went along last year.
“I think for me, it’s just giving multiple efforts and vision,” Gardner said of things he could improve on defensively. “I think those are the top two things in the Pack-Line, because when something breaks down, to be able to help your teammate, and then when you break down, be able to not give up on the play and make another effort.”
A lot of it is knowing where to be, and with the entire starting five back, being out of place shouldn’t be as much of an issue for the Wahoos.
“I think it’s huge, because going into last year, it was my first year playing under this system,” Gardner said of this group’s experience. “And then most of the guys besides Kihei [Clark] and Reece [Beekman], they weren’t playing on the court as much. So just having all that experience, from the starters being back to Ben [Vander Plas] transferring and playing a lot of college basketball, we have a lot of experience under our belt to help us get ahead than we were last year.”
Gardner touched on what else he’s been up to in the offseason.
“I was just working on my communication and being a leader, and trying to lead guys by not only example, but with my voice as well,” said Gardner. “And just still working on techniques with closeouts and different things for the Pack-Line, and also just expanding my range and working on my playmaking. That’s probably the main things I worked on this offseason.”
Gardner, who said that Clark’s decision to come back to Virginia for a fifth season was “100 percent” a determining factor when it came to his own return, agrees that the summer trip to Italy and extra practices puts the Hoos that much further ahead of the curve, and that every day he can, he is looking to add to his game.
“I think the process is huge,” Gardner said. “You can’t cheat steps. So in the process, you’ve got to be able to fail, you’ve got to be able to lose together, like we did last year. We lost together, but we also gained something. So making sure we’re always working to improve, no matter where we are in that process, and just making sure that we’re trying to get ahead but we don’t cheat steps.
“So we’re battling every day in practice, that’s why practice is so competitive, we’re lifting hard in the weight room, we’re getting our sleep, we’re recovering. So we’re taking this very seriously this year.”
Franklin, meanwhile, spent time in the offseason in Florida working out with former Cavalier Justin Anderson. Anderson revealed that during a visit to UVA last season, he asked the coaching staff if there was anything he could do to help the current players.
That ultimately resulted in Franklin spending a few days with Anderson over the summer, where he absorbed as much as possible from Anderson, who has played in both the G League and the NBA during his professional career.
“Just being able to watch and grab little anecdotes and the nuances of the game, it’s been an unbelievable week for me,” Franklin said of his time with Anderson on a Locker Room Access podcast, “I think one of the best weeks of training I’ve had in a while.”
Franklin admitted that he came to Charlottesville with lofty expectations after his two-year successful stint in the Big Ten with the Hoosiers, where he averaged 11.4 points per game and was a 42-percent 3-point shooter (36-for-85) as a sophomore.
After a 1-for-7 Cavalier debut from downtown against Navy, Franklin bounced back and showed what he could do in a 5-for-8, 21-point performance in the following game against Radford.
Across his next 10 games, aside from a 4-for-6 outing against Providence, Franklin endured a 3-for-43 slump from long range.
“It’s a long season and your confidence is up and down at times and you’re streaky, and I think that was my biggest thing, just trying to find consistency this last year, and I never could find it,” Franklin said. “But just been working on my game just to be more consistent.”
Franklin also revealed that he wasn’t really able to give it a go in preseason workouts last year, something he decided to mostly keep to himself.
“Right after, literally the day after I said I was coming to UVA, I found out I had to have ankle surgery, which I didn’t really tell anybody about, I mean, besides the people on the staff that knew about it, just because I didn’t want that to be an excuse or anything,” said Franklin. “And you kind of miss out on that summer work before you go back to school — that’s two months of work where you really get to hone in on your game, hone in on your skills — but I didn’t really get that because I was busy rehabbing.”
Franklin went on to explain that upon arrival at Virginia, he was still limited in practice leading up to the start of the season, but tried to work through his recovery and not let it slow him down.
Despite the inconsistency from long range, Franklin still produced 21 double-digit scoring performances as a junior, and closed the season strong from deep after making an adjustment to his shot. In his last seven games, Franklin was 17-for-37 from 3 (46 percent), including a 5-for-7 outburst at North Texas and 5-for-11 against St. Bonaventure in the NIT.
“Obviously not making the tournament [last] year, just going back with vengeance and trying to win a championship, but it’s hard,” Franklin told Anderson. “It’s hard work, but I’m ready to put the work in for it and come back even stronger this year.”
Coming off of a fully healthy offseason, including going through the team’s extra practices and trip to Italy, Franklin — who scored 14 points and sank 4 triples in the Blue-White Scrimmage — will try to carry that momentum into his senior campaign.