Standing at just 5'7 and without any major basketball experience, the odds were definitely against Kiwi Gardner as he tried to make his transition to the pro game with the hometown Santa Cruz Warriors. As a native of the Bay Area, the 20 year old lived the dream of every single kid who played the game on the streets of Oakland, imagining they were a Warrior.
The youngest player in the D-League, Gardner definitely has that similar excitement, both on and off the court. While his on-the-bench theatrics is very similar to that of Kent Bazemore, it's his work on the court that has made him into one of the most exciting reserves in the minor league
As his popularity continues to skyrocket on a game-by-game basis, RidiculousUpside.com recently had the opportunity to talk with Gardner about his transition to the D-League, the feeling behind playing in front of his hometown fans and the overall mindset that he brings to Santa Cruz.
Ridiculous Upside: Before you landed in Santa Cruz, you really hadn't played much organized ball since high school. Describe that transition and the challenges that you went through.
Gardner: It was really tough. Obviously, the talent level has risen but more importantly, the game speed had changed because of the 24 second shot clock. You really have to pay attention to detail so it's definitely a learning process but I feel like I've been getting better.
RU: As one of the shorter players in the league, was there a role model that you modeled your game growing up?
Gardner: I always liked Allen Iverson growing up and he was definitely my favorite player of all time. I also liked the old Isiah Thomas because of his scrappiness.
RU: As a Bay Area native, does it feel more special to know that you're playing for an affiliate of your hometown NBA team?
Gardner: Yeah, that's probably one of the biggest things for me. Just being from Oakland, I've been a Warriors fan growing up my whole entire life so to actually be a part of the family and to be under the same umbrella is just awesome. The guys on top do a good job of coming to support us whenever they get a chance to make us feel welcome. It just feels special every time I walk through the locker rooms and see the W's.
RU: The goal of the D-League is for its prospects to get an opportunity to showcase their skills. While you still play limited minutes, you've managed to make a big impact on the Warriors. Describe your mindset before you step on the court every night.
Gardner: Obviously my mindset is to entertain the fans. I'm going to bring a lot of energy both on and off the court to the team. When I get in game, I just want to defend and make it hard for the opposing point guard and try to not turn the ball over. So that's the mindset that I have going into every game where I defend and try to value every possession. As I get into the rhythm of the game, I'm going to take my points where I can and attack.
RU: What would you be able to contribute to an NBA team?
Gardner: I'm going to bring hard work and effort whether I'm in the game or not. I just want to make my teammates better whether it would be with points, rebounds or assists. Just going in early and showing the organization that I work hard. That's kind of like a domino effect because when a guy works hard, it's kind of difficult for another guy on the team to slack off because the effort difference is so dramatic. I would try to lead by example by being humble, hungry and being competitive because I absolutely love to win.