football

Gardner Getting Ready for Mizzou

After taking care of his college plans by signing with Missouri in the fall,
Portland (OR) Jefferson shooting guard Thomas Gardner (right) wanted to finish off his
prep career with a state championship.
Unfortunately that didn't happen thanks to a heartbreaking first round upset
loss to South Medford (OR). But Gardner did go out a winner, leading the
Democrats through the consolation bracket and a fifth place finish in the
Oregon State Tournament. His 35 points against South Eugene was a single-game
tournament high, and he also earned All-Tournament First Team honors with his
play.
"I'm most happy for Thomas Gardner," said Jefferson head coach Marshall
Haskins. "He's been unbelievable. He stepped up and showed leadership. He
was the most distraught after our (first round) loss and I thought he might
tank it."
"Instead, he was on the sidelines telling me 'Coach, you've got to get fired up
so we can play'," said Haskins. "He started playing inside rather than just
outside because that's what we needed. That's the leadership he's given us,
and the rest of the guys follow."
In fact, leadership has been the one thing Gardner has been working on all
season to get himself ready for the next level at Missouri.
"I've been trying to be an all-around leader, not only vocally, but also
leading by example," said Gardner. "Working on getting my teammates involved
early, so later they can feel comfortable with me later taking over the game.
Really, trying to be a team player and getting my team involved."
Gardner's reputation is as a shooter. It's well-deserved as he can easily hit
from NBA range with his lightning-quick release. But he's also capable of
scoring many different ways - he averaged over 25 points per game on the season
- and Tigers fans may be surprised by some of his skills.
"People don't really know that I can post up," he said. "Most of the season
our frontline has been kind of thin, so I've had to be flexible and play some
of the four and the five. My down-low moves have really helped me a lot this
season."
However, expect Missouri to keep him mainly at his natural position, shooting
guard.
"They told me that I'd probably play strictly the two," said Gardner.
Gardner has no expectations about playing time at Missouri, and is hoping that
hard work in practice will allow him to earn minutes on the court. He feels
good about how the Tigers shape up for next year.
"There's only like one senior on the team; there are a lot of juniors," he
said, naming off likely returnees such as shooting guard Ricky Paulding, center
Arthur Johnson, power forward Travon Bryant, and point guard Ricky Clemons. "I
feel that we'll really be stacked and that I'll fit in with the players good."
And does Gardner believe Johnson and Paulding's recent announcement that they
are indeed returning to Columbia instead of going to the NBA?
"Hopefully they do (return)," said Gardner. "It's going to better me as a
player playing against Ricky Paulding everyday in practice. What more can I
ask for?"
At the current moment, Gardner and Kickapoo (MO) point guard Spencer Laurie are
Missouri's incoming freshman class. But the Tigers will have another top scorer available in December 2003. Jason Conley, who led the country in scoring with 29.3 points per game in his first season at VMI, transferred to Mizzou following the fall 2002 term.
While Gardner didn't get to catch up
with Laurie when their teams played at the KMOX Shootout in December (a 77-61
Kickapoo (MO) victory), he's hoping to get to know him really well.
"They've sent me some papers about picking my roommate and I put his name down,
so hopefully he'll be my roommate," he said.
Gardner said that he will enroll at Missouri for the summer session and would
like to major in Business. Before then, he hopes to be invited to some
post-season all-star games, including the Oregonian Northwest Shootout, a
contest featuring the top seniors in Oregon and Washington.
"I talked to Brandon Lincoln (former Jefferson teammate now at Oregon) who
played in the game and he said it was a good experience," said Gardner. "So I
hope to be there."
Jed Tai is a Senior Writer with Hoopville.com
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