Kiwi Gardner Gets A Break, Told To 'Go At The Rim'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We have an update now on a hoop dream. In October, NPR's listeners heard from Kiwi Gardner, a 20-year-old, five-foot-seven inch basketball wiz from Oakland, California. Like so many talented young ballplayers, Gardner's ultimate goal was the NBA. To get there, he chose the minor league route.
KIWI GARDNER: I want to be able to make a D-League team this year, you know. I feel I'm at that level or I play at that level right now.
GREENE: Kiwi Gardner was right. He made it onto the D-League's Santa Cruz Warriors. And for one night this month, he was a even a star. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
NPR's Tom Goldman reports.
Kiwi Gardner showed up at the Warrior's open tryouts in October, better known than most.
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TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: On his resume, a YouTube video featured Gardner with his long dreadlocks flying, as he dunked, spun around defenders, nailed three-pointers. The video got over a million views, but not by Santa Cruz Head Coach Casey Hill. Streetball skills, like those on the tape, don't always fit in organized basketball and Hill didn't want to form any bias against Gardner.
CASEY HILL: I stayed away from his YouTube clips and I just watched him in our local tryouts. And he amazed us in both of them.
GOLDMAN: What impressed Hill most, was how the five foot seven Gardner played within himself - didn't try to do things he couldn't. Gardner, a point guard, was taken 112th by the Warriors in the D-League draft. The seventh to the last pick. He chuckles, remembering the phone call in early November from Hill that changed his life.
GARDNER: He might have said something like, What's up, punk or something, we taking you. I asked him what I need. He just told me bring some energy and bring my jump shot. And that was that.
GOLDMAN: He brought all that and much more three weeks ago.
KEVIN DANNA: Dwayne Dedmon is going to come in along with Kiwi Gardner and...
GOLDMAN: Before Gardner entered the game against the Bakersfield, California Jam on December 12th, he'd only been getting a few minutes of playing time here and there. Against the Jam, nothing was working for the Warriors, who trailed by 17 with a little more than nine minutes left in the game. Coach Hill sent Gardner in, with these words: Here's your chance, I need you to take the ball and go at the rim.
DANNA: Kiwi Gardner is going to race back the other way with the basketball. Now is going to get around Johnson. Reverse lay-up is good for Kiwi Gardner.
GOLDMAN: And that was just the start. Here's KION Radio play by play man Kevin Danna near the end of the game.
DANNA: Gardner going right at Schroeder - puts it up and in. Gardner has 21 points and he is getting mobbed by his teammates right now.
GOLDMAN: Gardner ended up with 23 points, two steals, two rebounds in the Warrior's come-from-behind win. It was a game's worth of stats in 9 minutes and 15 seconds. One of his teammates that night, former Duke star Seth Curry, tweeted afterwards: Kiwi snapped. During the game, coach Hill coached but also watched.
HILL: When we had cut the game to about two points, I sat down between my two assistant coaches and I said guys, I don't think I've ever seen anything like this.
GOLDMAN: Gardner though, refuses to mythologize the moment.
GARDNER: I got nine minutes and I played basketball for nine minutes. We did a great job of getting me the ball; we did a great job of not giving up, we did a good job of playing defense. I mean I was the beneficiary of making some shots at the moment.
GOLDMAN: The Hollywood ending has Kiwi Gardner getting the call-up to the NBA. Not so fast, says Hill. He's still raw, he's still learning. Gardner didn't play much college ball. He says he loves practices more than games because he gets to ask questions. With 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists in a game last week, the answers may be starting to come more often.
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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GREENE: That's not the last we'll hear of Kiwi Gardner. We'll be checking in with him periodically throughout the season, here on NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.