MBB Spring Recap: Gardner Draft Murmurs, a New Assistant with Championship Experience

Months after their run from zero to hero in the MAAC championship against Iona, the Marist men’s basketball program is making headlines this offseason.

After a thrilling run in the MAAC tournament that captivated Marist fans until the bitter end, the Red Foxes are back to reality entering the offseason. After all, they did finish dead last in the conference standings during the regular season, something that was masked in a shroud of tournament success. While the run saved the season, there is still much work to be done to exit the bottom of the standings.

The biggest gap to fill, of course, is Patrick Gardner. Marist’s top scorer by more than 11 points per game, Gardner was the main reason for the Red Foxes’ success in the MAAC tournament. A constant threat for defenses both inside and out of the arc, finding a player or multiple at Gardner’s level to replace his scoring next year will be extremely difficult.

To put it in perspective: Gardner has a reasonable chance of getting drafted into the NBA.

With the draft just two weeks away, Gardner has reportedly worked out with multiple NBA teams in hopes of getting drafted, including the Golden State Warriors, Brooklyn Nets, and the Orlando Magic. Most recently, the center worked out with the Washington Wizards on June 6 alongside five other draft prospects.

Footage from Gardner’s workout with GSL Sports Group has made a mark on Twitter and garnered interest from some reporters and basketball content accounts.

A general theme for Gardner’s potential success in the NBA is his unique path to Division I hoops. Gardner spent three years at JUCO level and a year in Division II collegiate basketball before his eventual ascension to the Marist as the team’s top scorer. His story means quick development, with the potential for growth to continue to eventually play at the sport’s highest level.

With four workouts already completed with NBA teams, Gardner has four more scheduled with the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New Orleans Pelicans all at later dates.

Gardner certainly isn’t a finished product, but the big man flashed a unique skill set of athletic scoring inside the paint complemented by his footwork. And yes, he can also shoot the three-ball. 

Any team that considers taking Gardner in the second round of the draft is betting on him to effectively utilize those skills against top-tier talent. He’s shown he can compete with some of the best college players from around the nation, tallying 8 points and seven rebounds in the Reese’s Division I all-star game. The next step will be integrating into a professional level of play if drafted.

So–needless to say–John Dunne and the rest of the coaching staff will miss the scoring presence of a potential NBA draft pick. On the bright side, Dunne has strengthened his coaching staff and scouting outreach with new assistant Derrick Phelps helping out the Red Foxes.

Phelps was most famous for being a three-year starter on the UNC Tar Heels men’s basketball team, where he went dancing in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. Phelps excelled defensively as a starting point guard for UNC; he left the Tar Heels with the most career steals (247), a record that still stands today. In the 1994 season, he made all-ACC second team, solidifying his solid starting role with one of the most prestigious basketball schools in the nation.

As a No.1 seed, UNC made it all the way to the final where they would beat Michigan 77-71. Michigan’s roster included the likes of NBA starter Jalen Rose and Hall of Fame inductee Chris Webber, and current Michigan head coach Juwan Howard. In the final, Phelps racked up 9 points, three rebounds and a team-leading six assists and three steals on their road to victory.

From there, Phelps briefly dipped his toes into the world of the NBA. After going undrafted in the 1994 NBA draft, he appeared in three games for the Sacramento Kings before bouncing around preseason squads the next few years. For the next fifteen years, Phelps played overseas for multiple different teams and leagues, starting out in Germany’s basketball league, the Basketball Bundesliga, where he won MVP of the BBL in 2001 and was a two-time champion of the league with ALBA Berlin.

After stints in France, Poland, the Netherlands and finally in Romania’s top basketball league, Phelps ended his professional playing career and immediately became involved in the game once again at the college level in the States. Phelps was hired in 2011 as an assistant head coach for Monmouth, where he stayed in the CAA for three years before taking another assistant job at Columbia for two years. Phelps also has experience as an associate head coach for both San Francisco and Washington State, where he helped develop their guards before stepping down in 2022.

Now, Phelps finds his way onto Coach Dunne’s squad. With the absence of Gardner, Phelps can help develop Marist’s young guards into full-fledged scoring options as well as defensive threats, the best aspect of his college playing style. Only time will tell what the addition of the former NCAA champion means for a new chapter of Marist’s men’s basketball program.

Photo From Marist Athletics

Edited By Luke Sassa

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