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Former Husky riding on top at ECU

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WAKE FOREST — Former Heritage High School boys basketball player Jayden Gardner finished his sophomore year first team all-district and second team all-conference at East Carolina University.

Gardner led the Pirates and the American Athletic Conference with 19.7 points per game. The sophomore forward also led his squad with 9.2 rebounds per game.

Despite leading the conference in scoring, Gardner finished second in voting for conference player of the year behind Precious Achiuwa of Memphis.

“This year, I kept my confidence up as I approach the next level,” Gardner said. “I believe in my work ethic. It got better once I got into college and I transferred it onto the court. I just keep working on my game and getting better.”

Even though Gardner had a great year individually, ECU finished second to last in the conference as a team. The Pirates went 11-20 overall and 5-13 in conference play.

ECU ended the year early due to the COVID-19 outbreak forcing all athletics to be canceled. That left the Pirates with a bad taste in their mouth finishing the season with a three-game losing streak before their conference tournament game against Memphis.

“This year has been a real learning experience,” Gardner said. “We have a young team. Winning at the college level is all about experience. Once you have that, you can be successful no matter where you’re at.”

Gardner first received the news during his morning shoot-around with his teammates. The coaches told them that their season is over.

“At first, we just thought we would still play and just have no fans,” Gardner said. “Once we saw the NBA cancel their games, the NCAA went with that. It’s disappointing to not play basketball and show what we could possibly do against Memphis. It was tough when we first heard the news.”

With no games to play, Gardner came back home to Wake Forest. He said he’s already getting prepared for next year.

“I’m working on getting my conditioning back and hitting the gym,” Gardner said. “I can’t hang out with most of my friends because of the coronavirus. I’m just trying to get some work in.”

While he was playing at ECU, Gardner made sure to come back home often to see how his former teammates at Heritage played. The Huskies finished the season as NAC 6 conference champions, but lost to Pinecrest in the third round of the 4A state playoffs.

“I’ve been keeping tabs on everybody,” Gardner said. “I came out to a couple of games this year. It was disappointing to see the guys not make it past the third round. I know Redford Dunton and Lucas Taylor want to finish out their senior year the right way. Heritage still has some life in it.”

Now that his sophomore season is over, Gardner is focused on the road ahead. He said there’s still plenty of basketball to be played.

“My biggest goal is to play professionally anywhere that will take my talents,” Gardner said. “We will see where when that time comes. My main thing is that I just want to play basketball.”