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Patrick Gardner’s unheralded rise to MAAC stardom

After a long journey through junior college and Division II, Gardner is shining at Marist

NCAA Basketball: Marist at Maine
Patrick Gardner posted 26 points and 31 points to help Marist sweep is trip to Western New York.
Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports

Tucked far away in the Internet archives of yesteryear, is a profile on the recruiting website NCSA Sports for a 6-foot-8-inch basketball player from Long Island, N.Y. The player attended Sanford H. Calhoun High School and averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game as a junior. The website requires players that register to write a personal statement, this is what was written.

“Hello! My name is Patrick Gardner and I am a person who never stops giving up. I bring leader ship, confidence and dedication to ones team. I used to play the bench freshman year in JV, now I became the best player entering my junior year, starting on VARSITY. I am one of the best shooters in the county, and I can play any position on the court. I am an athlete who knows the game of basketball, I can make great decisions on the court. Not only that, my personality will bring competativeness to the team and leadership, along with consistency and dedication to the team.”

Now, years removed from the grammatical disasterclass of a personal statement, Patrick Gardner is finally living out his dream of playing Division I basketball, and he’s doing so in dominant fashion.

You don’t see a ton of players like Gardner at the mid-major level, as his skill at his size is something that major programs prioritize, but for some reason, he slipped through the cracks. After spending time at JUCO and in Division II, Gardner has taken the MAAC by storm with remarkable statistics in a near impossible role.

Playing on a team with little to no spacing, and with guards who have struggled immensely to create shots, In seven MAAC games, Gardner is averaging 20.3 points and 4.7 rebounds, along with 2.4 assists, and doing so on impressive efficiency. His 70.0 true shooting percentage in conference play is absolutely remarkable for a player with as much of an offensive load as him. Entering the weekend, Marist was 326th in KenPom and was projected to lose both games on the MAAC’s dreaded Western New York road trip. If this had happened, the Red Foxes would’ve fallen to 1-6 in the league, and Gardner’s season would be a footnote to it. However, thanks to 26- and 31-point performances from the big man, Marist swept the road trip, and climbed to 3-4, just one game away from .500 after seeming almost dead to rights.

Gardner is one of the most remarkable offensive engines in mid-major basketball because he really is a seven-foot point forward. Taking on the burden of the offensive load for Marist, Gardner excels at scoring in a variety of ways. He will back down, and then instantly break off for the one-legged stepback fadeaway jumper, like he does in this clip.

“I never cared about what the stereotypes were for big men,” Gardner said.

The stereotypes never stopped Gardner, who has always dreamed about playing Division I basketball, from enhancing his skillset from a young age.

In middle and high school, he trained with Brian Kurr, who had him working on skills that traditional big men usually don’t. Through his Instagram account @habitsbasketball, Kurr said “As A Development Coach I Try Not To Put Players In A Box. Meaning, If You Send Me A 7 Footer We Wouldn’t Be Working On Only Post Moves. Send Me A Guard We Will Also Work On Finishing Footwork That Bigs Do.”

It’s easy to see this mentality in Gardner’s game today, where he not only is able to be a traditional back-to-basket big man, but he can run an offense from any place on the court, facing any direction.

From sixth grade through JUCO, Gardner’s weekends were spent with Kurr, developing an all-around basketball skillset that fits the modern game. Kurr helped Gardner unlock his own style of play, but deep down, it’s a gift that “comes natural to me, it always has.”

Gardner excels at finding cutters out of any sort of positioning, especially when the interior is vacated with the big man trying to guard him.

He’s also very good at driving downhill and finishing through contact. For guards, they face the obstacle of having to finish over big men, but Gardner’s body gives him a distinct advantage in downhill situations.

There isn’t much that Gardner doesn’t do for Marist, with his deep bag of post-moves, his effective fadeaway jumper, his solid three point stroke, and his elite vision, John Dunne is incredibly lucky to have a player of this caliber.

Outside of Gardner, the other four main ball handlers for Marist (Noah Harris, Isaiah Brickner, Kam Farris, and Jaden Daughtry), all have offensive ratings below 88, Gardner’s is 111.6. Dragging them through the mud, against all odds, the Red Foxes have the 5th best offense in the MAAC during conference play, and Gardner has made his case for MAAC Player of the Year.

However, none of this came easy for the Merrick, N.Y., native. As a self-described late bloomer, Gardner didn’t have any offers coming out of high school, so he went to play at Nassau Community College, where he credits coaches Ben Chobhaphand and AJ Wynder for seeing something in him.

Even after averaging impressive numbers in his three years at JUCO, Gardner didn’t have a Division I offer. His next step on the journey was Division II Saint Michael’s, where he played for former Iona assistant Eric Eaton.

At Saint Michael’s, Gardner finally made himself a Division I prospect, averaging 20.2 points and 10.2 rebounds and scoring in many different ways on his way earning All-Conference honors.

“I was not the player I was even just last year,” Gardner said. “I have constantly been improving, working hard in the weight room and shadowing my skill set.”

Dunne spoke highly of Gardner both on the court and in his mentality.

“You can do a lot of different things with him on the offensive end,” Dunne said. “He could score inside, score outside. He can dribble the ball, he can pass. He’s a willing passer. He’s unselfish.”

For a player at this size, Gardner is unique to the MAAC, and teams have to find ways to deal with him.

“[He is] an extremely coachable young man that we’re fortunate to have,” Dunne said. “I enjoy working with him every day, and I’ll continue to enjoy, you know, my journey with him through the rest of the season.”

When he finally got to make the transition to Division I, Gardner said that the adjustment was much harder than he expected, but he cherished it.

“[The Division I level is] much more physical, and scouts are more in detail,” he said.

However, he also said that he understands the highs and lows through so many seasons of playing, making the transition easier.

In his final season of college basketball, Gardner is making a name for himself, and while he likely won’t get looks from the NBA, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t make money playing the game somewhere in the world.