Gardner puts Suffolk in PIT

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, April 12, 2014

The oldest amateur basketball tournament in the United States will have an infusion of Suffolk talent this year.

Former King’s Fork High School standout Davante Gardner will be competing before National Basketball Association and international scouts as part of the 2014 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament held April 16-19 at the Churchland High School Sports Complex.

Former King's Fork High School and Marquette University standout Davante Gardner accepted the prestigious invite to compete this week at the 2014 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

Former King’s Fork High School and Marquette University standout Davante Gardner accepted the prestigious invite to compete this week at the 2014 Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.

“When I was younger, I used to always go there, watch players and everything, so now that I really got invited to it, it means a lot,” Gardner said.

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Each year since 1953, the PIT has invited 64 of the best college basketball seniors from all over the U.S. to play in a four-day, 12-game tourney in front of representatives from every NBA team.

NBA scouts and general managers first took notice of the event in the mid-1970s, when it featured players including Dave Cowens, John Lucas, Walt Szczerbiak and Bobby Cremins, according to the event’s website. Since then, the PIT has also helped showcase the skills of former NBA stars John Stockton, Dennis Rodman, Tim Hardaway and Scottie Pippen.

“I’m just really proud of his accomplishment,” King’s Fork head coach Josh Worrell said, citing his former player’s hard work at Marquette University.

“He’s been doing good every year he’s there, and continued to improve in each year,” Worrell said. “I was thinking that he’d be invited.”

As a freshman on the Division I level at Marquette, Gardner averaged nine minutes, 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game. By his senior year, he averaged 26.6 minutes and a team-leading 14.9 points, to go with 5.7 rebounds per game.

Regularly coming off the bench, he was named the Big East Conference Sixth Man of the Year for the second straight year this past season.

Before all that, Gardner helped King’s Fork win a Group AAA state championship in 2009.

Worrell gave an idea what spectators can expect from the PIT, which he said is now the only tournament of its kind in the country that gives seniors time in front of pro scouts following the college basketball season.

Aside from scouts from all 30 NBA teams, he said, “You’ll see twice that many international people there. So, there’ll probably be in excess of 100 scouts, give or take.”

He said some seniors may have declined an invitation, thinking their stock may simply go down if they play poorly. Others will be there specifically to improve their chances for a chance in the pros.

With regard to Gardner, Worrell said, “I think it can definitely help raise his profile.”

But the tournament is a tough environment in which to prove yourself, he said.

“It’s a little bit of a different brand of basketball when you go to watch it,” Worrell said, noting that nobody is really rooting for a team.

It is the individual players that are being highlighted.

“You see some of those kids that are trying to win,” Worrell said, but also “you see those selfish players,” that are more concerned with their statistics.

Worrell hopes Gardner “doesn’t get caught up in being that guy,” but enjoys himself and exhibits some of his jump-shooting skills.

Gardner said he would like stand out in the tournament, but he does not plan to do so by being selfish. He said his plan is to “just go in and play my game, like I always do, and be a great teammate, because that’s what most teams are looking for.”

He also plans show the range of his game.

“Everybody knows I can score from the low post, so I’m just going to show my mid-range jumper,” he said.

The PIT team rosters will not be announced until Monday, but two other former Hampton Roads players will play — Virginia Military Institute’s D.J. Covington and Duke University’s Andre Dawkins. Gardner said Marquette teammate Jamil Wilson also will be on hand, as well as Justin Jackson from the University of Cincinnati.

PIT tickets cost $10 a night, for two games, or a tournament ticket book can be purchased for $32 to see all 12 games. Tickets are available through all Ticketmaster outlets and the nTelos Wireless Pavilion Box Office. Tickets will also be sold at the gate prior to the start of each game.

Visit www.portsmouthinvitational.com for more information.