Virginia’s Gardner signs pro contract with Belgian club

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo by Jon Golden

Former Virginia standout Jayden Gardner has signed on with his first professional team, inking a deal with the Kortrijk Spurs in Belgium. Gardner and the Spurs will be competing in the betFirst BNXT League, which consists of teams from Belgium and the Netherlands, beginning in 2023-24.

Gardner, a Wake Forest, N.C., native who began his collegiate career at East Carolina before transferring to UVA ahead of the 2021-22 campaign, was an All-ACC honorable mention selection last season with the Wahoos.

The 6-foot-7, 233-pound power forward averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 0.7 assists across 26.3 minutes per game this past season, helping to lead the Cavaliers to a share of the ACC regular-season title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament — an item he was finally able to check off of his bucket list. He shot 51 percent from the floor and 69 percent from the free-throw line.

Cavalier fans will remember an emotional Gardner hoisting his framed jersey in front of a roaring crowd with tears rolling down his face prior to his final home game at John Paul Jones Arena in March.

Gardner started in all 68 games he played in a Cavalier uniform, including all 33 as a fifth-year. He scored in double figures in 50 of those contests — 29 in 2021-22, 21 last season. Including his three stellar seasons at ECU, Gardner concluded his college career with 2,395 points, 1,120 rebounds and 206 assists.

He attended a tryout with the Washington Wizards in the offseason, but was unable to catch on with an NBA organization in time for Summer League. The 23-year-old forward and his agent, Pete Mickeal, made the one-year deal with the Spurs official on Wednesday.

Gardner’s new team, also known as the “House of Talent” Spurs, plays its home games in Kortrijk at the Sportcampus Lange Munte, an arena that seats 2,400 fans. The Spurs won Belgium’s “Top Division Men 1” this past season to make the jump up to the BNXT, the country’s top division in the sport.

While it may not necessarily be his ideal destination, Gardner will undoubtedly pour everything he has into the upcoming season with the Spurs in hopes of finding his future basketball home — whether it’s in Europe or elsewhere abroad, or if he can one day make his way onto an NBA roster, a la former Hoo Anthony Gill (2012-16).

Gill, who is entering his fourth season with the Wizards, averaged 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds during his three years at Virginia after transferring from South Carolina. He spent four years overseas — one year in Turkey and three more in Russia — before making his NBA debut on Dec. 23, 2020.

Since then, Gill, who turns 31 in October, has appeared in 129 NBA games (12 starts), and is scheduled to make close to $2 million in 2023-24.