Virginia Basketball Lands Top Frontcourt Transfer Target Jayden Gardner

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The University of Virginia basketball program needed depth at the 4 position to begin the offseason, but when sophomore Justin McKoy decided to transfer, needed depth became a gaping hole. Cavalier head coach Tony Bennett and staff went a long way towards solidifying its 2021-22 frontcourt on Monday (April 12), when East Carolina power forward Jayden Gardner announced his commitment to UVA over Arkansas, LSU, Miami and NC State.

Though he has played three seasons at ECU, Gardner has two years of eligibility at Virginia if he chooses to use it.

Coach Bennett wasted no time pursuing Gardner, who granted the Cavalier head man one of the first Zoom meetings upon entering the portal. The 6’7”, 235-pound junior also met with and/or received interest from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame, NC State, Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech. He met with coaches from each of the five finalists twice before reaching his decision.

“I mean, just Tony Bennett, me and him, his faith in God and my faith in God, we really had a really good connection from the start,” Gardner told Tyler Feldman of WITN Sports in the interview below. “The opportunity I had to play in the ACC and to play right away. They needed someone at that position, and it was just an opportunity I couldn’t refuse.”

Asked how he will be able to develop his game further at UVA, Gardner said: “I just feel like I’ll be able to expand my range and just work on becoming a two-way player out there at Virginia. I know [Bennett] can help me, on and off the court, and I can help him. It’s going to be quite a thing to see.”

Gardner, a native of Wake Forest, North Carolina, starred at East Carolina all three seasons. As a freshman he averaged 16.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, leading the Pirates in 11 statistical categories on his way to being a unanimous selection on the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman Team.

As a sophomore, Gardner compiled 13 double-doubles (points-rebounds), including 10 games where he scored 20 points or more and pulled down 10 boards or more. He was the AAC leader in scoring (19.2 points per game), third in rebounding (9.2 rebounds per game), and second in offensive boards (2.9 per contest). Gardner ranked 12th nationally in free throws made and was 10th in free throw attempts. He was named the AAC Player of the Year by HoopsHD.com.

Gardner had a tremendous three-year run at East Carolina. ~ Photo credit: Rob Goldberg/East Carolina Athletics

Gardner earned AAC First Team honors as a junior in 2020-21, churning out 18.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. In his three-year career in Greenville, the standout forward started 79 of 81 games, averaged 18 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, and averaged 7.1 free throws per contest (making 74.1%).

Because the NCAA is expected to grant immediate eligibility to all transfers next season, Gardner, redshirt junior Francisco Caffaro, and redshirt sophomore Kadin Shedrick make up UVA’s projected scholarship frontcourt in 2021-22.

Projected Roster (Scholarship Players Only), 2021-22

Point Guards: Kihei Clark (Sr), Reece Beekman (Soph)

Wings: Trey Murphy III (Sr), Kody Stattmann (Sr), Armaan Franklin (Jr, Transfer from Indiana), Carson McCorkle (Soph), Taine Murray (Fr)

Posts: Jayden Gardner (Sr), Francisco Caffaro (R-Jr), Kadin Shedrick (R-Soph)

In Gardner and Armaan Franklin, Virginia landed two of its top targets in this spring transfer season, but Coach Bennett may not be finished pursuing transfers and/or high school seniors. The Hoos await official word from junior Trey Murphy III, who is expected to declare for the NBA Draft. The likelihood of him staying in the Draft is gaining steam, though we will see what happens with the sharpshooting 6’9” wing in the coming days.

All three Virginia seniors – Sam Hauser, Jay Huff and Tomas Woldetensae – declined to return to school for another year and are instead pursuing professional opportunities. The Hoos lost three players to transfer – sophomore guard Casey Morsell (NC State), freshman guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim (Georgia), and McKoy (UNC) – before receiving good news from Franklin and Gardner.

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