‘To go out the right way’

Published 10:46 pm Thursday, January 23, 2014

Marquette University senior and former King’s Fork High School standout Davante Gardner got a promotion on the basketball court this season.

Former King’s Fork High School standout Davante Gardner aims to conquer obstacles as a senior at Marquette University and land in the National Basketball Association draft.

Former King’s Fork High School standout Davante Gardner aims to conquer obstacles as a senior at Marquette University and land in the National Basketball Association draft. (Submitted by Margaret Bean)

Last year, he served as the team’s second leading scorer last season while coming off the bench. The leading scorer was guard Vander Blue, but he left in the off-season to pursue professional possibilities and currently has a 10-day contract with the Boston Celtics.

Gardner is now striving to reach his senior-year goals as the primary offensive threat for the Golden Eagles.

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Describing the transition into the role, he said, “It’s been good, but I’ve been getting a lot of pressure,” as teams have begun to double- and triple-team him.

Golden Eagles head coach Buzz Williams touched on this issue when he said he thought the transition has “been up and down.”

“I think the thing that’s made it more difficult for him, particularly as a post player, is most teams are doubling him,” Williams said. “Sometimes they’re doubling him on the catch, sometimes it’s on the bounce… So, that’s a lot to have to absorb, not only going from being maybe your second offensive option to your first one, but when you’re getting doubled in the manner that he’s getting doubled, I think he’s been really good at trying to figure that out.”

Gardner is averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds this season, both tops on the team. Marquette is currently 11-8 overall and 3-3 in the Big East conference.

In their most recent game on Monday, the Golden Eagles defeated host Georgetown University in overtime by the score of 80-72. Gardner led his team with 20 points to go with five assists and four boards.

“He’s been frustrated at times, which is understandable, but I thought his most efficient game was probably Monday night,” Williams said.

Gardner admitted that, indeed, the Georgetown game was frustrating for him.

“It felt like I didn’t do much scoring that game, but I really did,” he said. Putting the game in the team perspective, he said, “We came out with the victory, so I’m happy for that.”

The power forward/center said he has been working with coaches in practice on how to better respond to the double teams.

One way that Gardner likes to respond is by being a facilitator, something his former high school coach praised him for doing.

“He’s a good passing big guy, so he’s getting doubled a lot this year, and he’s finding the open guys, and he’s making his teammates better,” King’s Fork head coach Josh Worrell said.

Williams sees Gardner as being on an upward slant now while playing heavy minutes. He has begun starting the last several games and played 40 minutes on Monday. He played 42 minutes last Saturday during a 69-57 overtime road loss to Butler University in which he led his team with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“Now, that’s a lot of minutes for anybody to play, particularly for a big kid to play, so I think his conditioning’s a lot better,” Williams said.

Gardner said one of his goals this season is to lose a couple more pounds, and it would seem he is already headed in the right direction.

“He’s in the best shape that he’s ever been in,” Williams said. “He wants to go out the right way, and he wants to be the right leader, not only on game day but on practice day, and we are dependent upon him.”

Gardner said he wants to help the younger players on the team “so they know what to do when they get in this position in the upcoming years.”

He also wants to ensure his team gets just as far, if not further, in the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament as it has in his previous years. Last year, he helped Marquette reach the Elite Eight.

After college, he will look to play professionally.

“My first goal is try to get drafted,” he said.

His new status on the court at Marquette could help, particularly if he continues to improve and blossom in the role.

“Sometimes everybody wants a break from having to be ‘the guy,’ but he’s done a really good job of trying to understand what he’s got to and how he’s got to be able to execute those things,” Williams said.