Tony Bennett has scored his second big transfer in the last five days. This time, it’s former East Carolina forward Jayden Gardner. A first team All-AAC selection this past season, he carries career averages of 18 points and nearly 9 rebounds over three years with the Pirates. Graduations and transfers left Virginia badly in need of an interior scoring presence. They just added one of the best players of that variety in college basketball.
Jayden Gardner’s Recruitment
Jayden was completely transparent about his entire process. He seemed to have a plan in place from the time he decided to transfer and stuck with it. Every step was publicly reported. He did interviews discussing the schools involved at each stage. For fans following, it was a breath of fresh air in comparison to the usual secrecy transfer recruits operate under. He told me he’d commit within three weeks, probably a lot sooner. That was less than two weeks ago.
It felt like Virginia was the favorite from the start. Tony Benett pounced quickly, getting the first Zoom call the day after Jayden announced his transfer. About a dozen schools ended up having that chance before last Tuesday when he released a list of finalists. Virginia, NC State, Miami, LSU, and Arkansas were the contenders left standing. All of them got to make their closing arguments over a second round of Zoom calls. By Friday, the choice was made and date set.
There was a little bit of a previous relationship, as the coaching staff had evaluated him in high school. That probably helped with getting a foot in the door. Virginia had a wide open opportunity available. He consistently said he wanted to join a winning program where he could develop best for the professional level. It all makes for a seemingly perfect marriage that should greatly benefit both parties.
What to Expect from Jayden Gardner
Essentially, this is the roster replacement for outgoing transfer Justin McKoy who just committed to North Carolina. Jayden has two seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the NCAA’s “free year”. His hope is undoubtedly to show out in the ACC next year, then move on to the NBA. There’s a chance he uses that fifth season at UVA, but that’s a decision that will be made a year from now.
At the moment, the 6’7 Gardner is the only true power forward on the roster. That’s where he’ll see the majority of his playing time. He’ll almost certainly start and be featured. If you’re searching for a comparison to recent UVA players, he’s almost a cross between the college versions of Anthony Gill and Mike Scott. Most of his damage is done in the paint, but it doesn’t always start there. He’s very comfortable creating off the dribble and a terrific mid-range shooter.
Jayden brings a great offensive combination of skill and aggression. He’s lethal in mid-post isolations where he can face his man up and go to work. With an explosive first step and the dependable mid-range jumper, it’s very hard to defend him in those situations. He’s always in attack mode, just relentless. That aggressiveness frequently gets him to the foul line, seven times per game over his career where he’s converted 74%.
The energy he brings will be contagious, both to his teammates and fans at John Paul Jones Arena. It’s not limited to the court either. This guy has a large fun personality. I expect him to be an immediate fan favorite. We just got a fantastic player. Wahoo fans should be ecstatic.
Recruiting Going Forward
With the addition of Jayden Gardner, Virginia is back up to 10 scholarship players for next season. However, that includes Trey Murphy who could opt to leave for the NBA. He’s projected as the #41 overall pick in ESPN’s latest mock draft. A decision is expected any day on whether to fully commit to the draft or start off in the testing lane.
Virginia has now gotten the two transfers they absolutely needed in Gardner and Indiana guard Armaan Franklin. Even if Murphy leaves, they would have an acceptable remaining roster. The hope is to add one more immediate impact transfer. And possibly another young player too. But it’s seen as a luxury at this point instead of a necessity. Expect them to be selective.
They’re still shorthanded in both the power forward and wing spots, especially if Murphy does indeed turn pro. Kody Stattmann could contribute there, but Virginia will surely continue searching for potential additions. UVA has been reportedly tied to a few guys that could fill the void such as Seth Lundy (Penn State), Tari Eason (Cincinnati), and Trey Wade (Wichita State). So far, there’s no indication of serious involvement with any of those, but the fact that they’re in contact tells us a similar player is on the agenda.
There’s also been reports of the coaching staff reaching out to unsigned seniors recruits like former Texas commit David Joplin. The coaching staff always intended to add a forward in the 2021 class. Look for them to keep looking over potential candidates, both high seniors and freshman transfers since they have four years of eligibility left under the “free year” rule. Tennessee freshman transfer Corey Walker might be of interest. The former highly sought after recruit visited UVA early on during the first go around.
The bottom line is that UVA probably isn’t done in the late cycle, but it’s already been a measurable success. Soon, we’ll be back talking about 2022 recruits. Top forward target Isaac Traudt is planning to visit in June when the dead period is lifted. With Franklin and Gardner on board along with a promising outlook on 2022 recruiting, UVA basketball is primed to compete for ACC titles for the foreseeable future.
(Image: Rob Goldberg ECUPirates)