Jayden Gardner became one of the hottest names in the market soon after entering his name into the NCAA transfer portal early this week. The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward has heard from over 18 schools, including Jim Larranaga and the Miami Hurricanes.
“It’s just a blessing to be able to play basketball at the highest level,” Gardner told 305 Sports in a phone call Friday. “Just people wanting you to play at their university. I’ve made sure to take everybody’s calls, their pitches and offers because it’s only right.”
Gardner says he’ll wind down his list as soon as next week, mentioning that his Friday composed of a zoom call with Pittsburgh and a chat with LSU. When asked about his two meetings with UM’s coaching staff, his energy was notably content.
“It was really phenomenal,” he said. “The graphics were off the charts. Every coach had me in a different graphic in Miami, jerseys, different shades, the background, everything they were featuring had me in it. The graphics team outdid themselves. I and all the coaches hit it off. Jim was a really great guy. We talked about his George Mason run, how many transfers he’s had and had success with, how he would use me and how he can help me, motivate me and get me to where I want to be. How many NBA players he’s seen, been around. It was really good.”
Gardner spent his past three years at East Carolina, where he comes off a career-best season, averaging 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. His play earned him First Team All-American Athletic Conference honors, becoming the first Pirate to garner that accolade since 2013.
He’s shown to be a reliable player in crunch time, which according to him, is exactly what Larranaga’s asking of him.
“He needs a guy to be a go-to guy,” Gardner said. “They don’t have a guy like me that can go get buckets. Just to expand my guy as well. He was big on emphasizing what I do well on the court so he can help me do that better and use that in the game.”
Gardner believes the ‘Canes are stirring in the right direction, mentioning their ACC tournament run, along with Miami’s struggles with six scholarship players for a large part of this past season. He believes his arsenal well equips any team in the country.
“It’s a mold of consistency,” Gardner said on what makes him unique. “I’m always going to be a consistent player. I have a good IQ, have a good feel for the game, I just love playing basketball. The coaches are just saying how hard I play through the passion, the desire, the fuel that lights my eyes. Just being a kid that was highly under-recruited coming out of high school, it’s just a blessing to get the opportunity to try to perform at the highest level and get the opportunity to.”
Larranaga’s pitch to Gardner is truly unknown, but isn’t difficult to uncover. He’s credentialed in producing talented groups through the transfer portal. Now entering a decade in Coral Gables, he’s grabbed Shane Larkin from DePaul, Angel Rodriguez from Kansas State, Sheldon McClellan from Texas, and so on. UM’s historic 2013 run featured three players who transferred – Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney-Jones. The ingredient is far from ideal, but it pleases anybody looking for a place to call home.
“It’s prestigious what he’s built,” Gardner said. “Great city, great environment, great coach. It’s a lot of great factors playing in Miami.”
Gardner will spend a large part of April looking for the exact school that fits him best. When it’s all said and done, he’s looking to make a lasting impression on those around him.
“I’m one of the realist and genuine guys that you’ll ever meet. I’m quiet at times, but I’m a really hard worker. You’re going to get everything out of me, 110 percent. I’m going to play as hard as I can. I’m going to hustle, rebound, score it, be a leader, a locker room guy. It’s going to be a real relationship between me and the fans, the coaches and the players.”