A Diamond in the West:: Jalen Gardener

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CALGARY, AB– “They can think what they think. I know what I’m capable of and I’m not going to let it get to my head. It’s not always going to be sunny so I have to stay motivated and hopefully change some minds.”

In a nutshell, this is the mindset of a young hoopster located in Calgary, Alberta striving to fulfill his dreams. Currently part of the 2011 class, Jalen Gardener has his options open, in search of a right fit for next season, ultimately reclassifying himself to 2012. The 6’1 point guard is not looking to attend post-secondary school just yet. Instead, Jalen is probing to find a prep school suitor that is willing to take him to the next level.

Gardener is an unselfish player with a natural ability to distribute the ball and run an offense. He has a very solid handle on the ball and a quick first step to blow by defenders. He also boasts above average athleticism, enabling him to finish plays when airborne. A flaw in his game lies in his body strength, as this sometimes hinders his ability to finish with contact. Gardener can sometimes be taken advantage of by stronger guards due to this weak point.

However, what distinguishes Gardener as a player is his relentless determination to improve on his weaknesses. “I’m always looking for ways to get better, and soak up everything or turn from negative to positive,” Gardener passionately explained.

Playing his high school basketball at Bowness High in Calgary hasn’t always been easy. Bowness lacks true fire power to contend with Alberta’s elite programs including Western Canada, Raymond, and Harry Ainlay, to name a few powerhouse basketball schools. When taking this into account, one would naturally suggest that it would be Gardener’s responsibility to elevate his team’s overall play, in turn leading the Bowness Trojans to victory.

However, Gardener is not a score-first guard, despite the fact that he has the ability to drop 30+ points, doing so on several occasions over the course of the season. He is a distributor; therefore, a player of his nature would naturally thrive in an environment where his teammates on the wing can finish on-point bounce passes, gorgeous lobs or execute with consistency on the receiving end of a drive and dish.

In the midst of his journey to find the correct location where his skills will blossom, he has engaged in some dialogue with coaches at Wilbraham and Monson located in Massachusetts. That’s correct, the same W&B school that high-major NCAA prospect, Braeden Anderson is finishing his senior year at.

“That opportunity looks promising but I’m still keeping my options open,” he said.

On the post secondary scene, Colgate University (NCAA) has expressed interest in Jalen, but it ends there. If you’re an NCAA coach reading this, you could end up with a steal!

This summer, he will be on the AAU (American Athletic Union) circuit once again with his club team, CYDC Elite (Calgary Youth Development Centre) where he will look to get more exposure and make a name for himself.

CYDC Panthers Head Coach, John Hegwood had nothing but praise for Gardener and was most impressed with his development.

“Jalen has really improved his basketball IQ over the past couple of years. This stands out the most because he is a very skilled player that can hurt you on both offense and defence. Jalen has always been able to put points on the board with his smooth shooting stroke, but when he developed that basketball IQ, it made him the total package.”

Gardener prides himself in possessing the ultimate confidence and extraordinary thirst for improvement. Although he stands in a position of uncertainty, Jalen remains positive and stimulated to succeed.

 “It’s tough but I always been the kind of guy that is easily motivated. The bigger picture, my dream is what really keeps me motivated…knowing that I can succeed and do whatever I want is what makes me work hard every day,” professed Gardener.

The wiry floor general is an absolute “gym rat” in every sense of the term, consistently refining his game at every opportunity that presents itself. When asked about his activity off the court, it turned out that there wasn’t any.

 “Basketball really is my life…there’s not much that I do outside of basketball. I have homework to do, and then find other ways to get better,” he expressed.

After asking for another perspective on Gardener, a common theme became evident. A former teammate and highly recruited, aforementioned prospect by the name of Braeden Anderson spoke on what separated Gardener from the rest of the pack.

“Work ethic, hunger, and his tenacity,” Anderson responded without hesitation.

“He is a tough, hard-nosed kid…reminds me a lot of Rajon Rondo, but a way better three-point shooter,” he said.

While the Calgary native is far from an NBA champion, his goals are set high. Ask any competitive young player about their basketball ambition and all answers are sure to mimic each other.

 “My dream is to make the NBA and I’m not going to shy away from that, gonna continue working, that’s what I’m pursuing,” Gardener firmly stated.

When combining upside, talent and work ethic, it’s quite difficult to deny the young prospect. Gardener is simply a student of the game, conveying his curiosity in terms of improvement.

“Jalen is always asking questions on how to better prepare for his opponent; he is always looking for that edge when he competes. His work ethic on both ends of the court separates him from other players because of the tenacity at which he competes,” said Coach Hegwood.

“He simply thrives for the ultimate challenge and he wants the ball in crunch time. Most players shy away from this situation, but Jalen embraces it with a passion I can’t explain.” 

Although Hegwood couldn’t find the right words for this passion, Gardener did not hold back.

“If you’re going to do something, do it to your fullest abilities. I want to get to the absolute highest level that I possibly can in basketball and I’m going to continue to work towards that.”

In the meantime, Gardener will focus on the present and perking up his repertoire. As already mentioned Gardener has a wiry frame and will need to add lean muscle in order to compete at the next level. Defensively, his long arms are a great asset in the passing lanes ­­­­in addition to man-to-man coverage.

With this being said, Gardner has the tools to become a very solid prospect. An underrated aspect of any budding star is work ethic, the biggest strength that favours Gardener’s progress.

As Hegwood proclaims, “Jalen has really improved his basketball IQ over the past couple of years. This stands out the most because he is a very skilled player that can hurt you on both offense and defense. He has always been able to put points on the board with his smooth shooting stroke but when he developed that basketball IQ, it made him the total package.”

Gardener has become a complete player and rest assure, will continue working on all aspects of his game.

“Jalen has put in a tonne of work to develop his game over the years and I am very proud of his commitment to excellence. He certainly has a very bright future at the next level.”  

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