The problem with being a second rounder, as many know, is that a player is not guaranteed any money, or given the few years to prove their value to a team. If a player goes in the second round of the NBA draft, it is an up-hill climb to the top, an ascension that many players do not make. In my opinion, Jason Gardner is in a predicament similar to that which Juan Dixon was in, and the one thing that could push him over the top is not out of his reach…a national championship.
Gardner suffers from the same problem that had Dixon projected as a second round draft
choice: you cannot teach height. Gardner is listed as 5'11'' which is, by many accounts, generous. In a league like the NBA, where GM's are extremely particular, two inches can be the difference between being the 50th pick, and the 15th.
How particular are the NBA scouts and GM's that have Gardner's future in hand? Two years ago, four of the top ten picks were high school students, yet after they all put up meager numbers last year, this year's draft had only one high school student picked in the entire first round. That is an extreme turn in draft philosophy. This most recent draft was the year of the foreign player. Because of league stand-outs like Peja Stojakovic and Dirk Nowitzki, the GM's were overseas-happy and selected foreign players. In fact, players from other countries accounted for three of the first seven picks in the last draft. If this year's group of foreign players do not contribute as planned, I fully expect that there will not be as many chosen in next year's draft. Who knows what GMs will be hunting for this next year, or what the trend will be with their picks. But one trend that never goes out of fashion is winning, and with a national title Jason Gardner will solidify himself as a winner.
The NBA is driven by money. The players are money hungry, the GMs are money conscious, and the fans pay a lot of money to see a good product. Last week during the Washington Wizard's rout of the Boston Celtics, the crowd began chanting "we want Juan!" Doug Collins obliged and the Washington crowd exploded when Dixon entered the game. Juan was already a fan favorite, even before stepping onto the court, and the way that he catapulted himself to this status was by his inspired play throughout the NCAA tournament. The fans paid top-dollar to come see Michael Jordan, but to get their money's worth, they needed to see Juan. If Jason Gardner can show what I expect he will come March, he could reap the benefits of a home town crowd begging for his appearance next year in the NBA.
In my honest opinion, I believe that Gardner is an extremely under-rated NBA prospect. Granted, he is a "tweener" and has the shooting abilities of a true shooting-guard coupled with the size of a point guard. However, Jason's aptitude for running a team, his tenacity on defense, and his ability to hit the clutch shot make him a very serviceable NBA player, at least in my book. I fully expect Gardner to have an All-American season, go through the tourney, win a title, and to top it all off see his jersey hang in McKale. This season is not going to be easy for Gardner though, because he has the most to gain or lose depending on the outcome. If for some reason the Wildcats flounder and are not able to win themselves the coveted NCAA title, Gardner could see the worst outcome of anyone involved and be forced to make a living playing basketball overseas, or in developmental leagues, at least for a few years. However, if the Cats can pull together, and win themselves a national title, I fully expect Gardner to be a first round draft pick.
Whether Gardner is a first rounder this year is negligible to me, because I truly believe that he will make an impact in the NBA, regardless of how he gets there. Jason has the tenacity and drive of a winner, and I am sure that he ultimately would earn himself an opportunity in the NBA, whether it comes after this year or not. This season is Jason Gardner's time to show that not only is he one of the best Wildcats ever, but that he belongs in "the league." Hopefully, Gardner can rally these troops and lead them to the "promised land", while at the same time catching the ever-watchful eye of the National Basketball Association. Jason's future is in his hands this year. Is Gardner up to this huge challenge? Can he prove that he belongs at the next level? I would not bet against him.Talk about this story on the PREMIUM MESSAGE BOARD Contact Brad Allis at firstname.lastname@example.org