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Virginia lands ECU forward Jayden Gardner

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Jayden Gardner Another piece of the Virginia postseason basketball recruiting puzzle fell into place Monday afternoon when former East Carolina star Jayden Gardner committed to the Cavaliers.

Gardner, who just finished his junior season with the Pirates, will have two years of eligibility remaining and can play immediately.

“Tony Bennett was a very, very vital factor in me going [to Virginia],” Gardner said. “He kept it honest and truthful from the beginning with me and let me know the significant need they have for me.”

Gardner had at least one virtual meeting with Bennett and UVA associate head coach Jason Williford. It was clear that Gardner’s desire was to make it to the next level of basketball and both Bennett and Williford explained to him how he would fit into the Virginia program, what roles he could play, how it was a need position for the Cavaliers and how they could develop him for the next level.

Thusly, it was no surprise when Gardner tweeted this message out to the basketball world on Monday:

“First and foremost, thank you to all the coaches that reached out to me, and recruited me,” Gardner tweeted. “It is a lessing just to be able to play the game I love and to get a chance to compete at the highest level is a dream come true.

“This has been a hard decision for me, but I just want to thank God and my family for helping me to come to a decision. It has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid to play in the ACC and compete against the best of the best.

“With that being said, I will be committing to the University of Virginia. Go Hoos!”

Gardner had narrowed his long list of suitors to five, including UVA, NC State, Miami, Arkansas and LSU. Among the schools he eliminated were Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Pitt, Boston College, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Mississippi, Xavier and Texas A&M.

“Wahoos, you’re getting a leader and a guy with a nonstop motor that you’ll love seeing on the court,” Gardner told Stockrisers. “I’ll be giving 110 percent. Can’t wait to see y’all out there.”

Gardner is a perfect fit for Virginia and fills a position of need for Tony Bennett’s program.

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward averaged 18 points and 8.3 rebounds a game at ECU last season. He brings both physicality, scoring and rebounding to the Cavaliers’ front court, where Virginia has lost 6-9 Sam Hauser and 7-foot Jay Huff.

Gardner shot 50 percent from the field this past season and brings an aggressive style of offense with him, which means he gets opportunities at the free throw line, something Virginia needed desperately last season.

He was second in the AAC in scoring, rebounding and minutes played last season and was among the conference leaders in offensive rebounds, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. When he left East Carolina, he ranked eighth all-time on the Pirates career scoring list.

In a regular season game against Houston, Gardner posted 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Meanwhile, another UVA target from the transfer portal, North Carolina big man Walker Kessler, announced he would be transferring to Auburn rather than Gonzaga. Experts believe this was a sign that Gonzaga big man Drew Timme is likely returning to the Zags.

Also, Phlandrous Fleming, a 6-4 guard from Charleston Southern, who said Virginia was on his list of final three, committed to Florida, which wasn’t on his list of final three.

Former Virginia guard Jabri Abdul-Rahim announced that he is transferring to Georgia. Justin McKoy committed to North Carolina and Casey Morsell committed earlier to NC State.

Gardner is Virginia’s second commitment from the transfer portal as the Cavaliers gained Indiana shooting guard Armann Franklin last week. Franklin, who chose the Cavaliers over Indiana (four of the six Hoosiers that entered the transfer portal returned to the program) and Illinois. Franklin just finished his sophomore year at Indiana and was one of the Big Ten’s most improved players last season.



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