With the graduation of seven players from a 13-man boys’ basketball roster, Jayden Gardner expected more weight to fall on his shoulders.
And shouldered the Huskies he has.
Gardner, a 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, is the Cap-8 Conference’s leading scorer who tallied career-highs of 31 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to Fayetteville Village Christian on Monday.
His scoring performance that day made him the second boys’ basketball player from Heritage to reach 500 career points.
The young forward is on pace to surpass the program’s leading scorer Josh Katowitz, who finished with 563.
Gardner, after 19- and 21-point games at the South Granville holiday tournament, sits at five shy of the record at 558 points.
“It was very special, because we were down a lot and I know I couldn’t just sit back and watch (against Village Christian),” said Gardner, who is only in his second year on varsity. “I tried to demand the ball and keep our team going. We got some stops, I got some buckets, crashed the offensive board, but we just came up short in the end.”
The Village Christian loss was Heritage’s first of the year, as the Huskies opened on a 10-game winning streak and are one of two Cap-8 teams who are undefeated in league play.
Gardner, who averages 23.5 points a game, said he’s been surprised by his scoring prowess. He said with the loss of so many seniors, the Heritage coaching staff has trusted him more.
Therefore, Gardner has “more freedom to do what I like to do to help my team,” he said.
“(The key to a young team finding success is) just getting chemistry and getting more basketball IQ, since we are younger, and getting more poised with our team so we can play against good teams and great teams and know how to beat them,” he added.
Gardner named Heritage’s triple-overtime victory against Leesville Road in the conference opener toughest game of the year.
Coming up on Jan. 8, though, is defending Cap-8 champion and unbeaten Millbrook.
“Millbrook will be the test to see if we’re the real deal,” Gardner said.
The Huskies sophomore and Los Angeles Lakers fan has played basketball since he was 4. He grew up playing other sports, but basketball was the one in which he most notably excelled.
Gardner enjoys the competition the game offers, and, now, he’s got a target on his back in needing just a few points to break a school record.
But the way he feels is, “I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. No mercy for anybody, really.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan
Sport / Position: Basketball / Forward
Fun fact: Favorite way to score is off his spin move