Not invited to key camp, Jeff grad hopes to impress in workouts

Thomas Gardner's exit from Missouri and entrance into pro basketball came down to one thing:

'I wanted my future to be in my hands,' says Gardner, the 2003 Jefferson High grad who hopes to be selected in the June 28 NBA draft. He left Missouri after his junior season but could have returned, had he not signed with agents Bill McCandless and Happy Walters.

Even before last season, Gardner had virtually decided to leave for the pros.

'Coach (Quin) Snyder and I had talked about it last summer,' he says, of the deposed Tiger coach. 'It was something I was always going to do.'

With Snyder gone after he resigned early last season, Gardner knew he would definitely go pro. He went on to average nearly 20 points for the Tigers, and Gardner came within 28 credits of earning his communications degree before leaving Missouri.

Still, it's all about pro basketball now - the NBA, the National Basketball Development League or something else. He doesn't envision playing overseas.

'It was the best time for me to go,' he says. 'It wasn't impossible to have another good year, but it would have been hard to duplicate,' especially with a new coach and a new system. And, would he get injured?

So, Gardner says he lives without regret for his decision. He has taken his chances, and his audition for the NBA hasn't been without problems. He got snubbed by NBA pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla., from June 6 through June 10, a blow to his chances of being drafted.

But McCandless set up a workout in Los Angeles for four teams, including Miami and Sacramento, put him in another group workout with the L.A. Lakers, among other teams, and scheduled individual workouts for Houston, L.A. Clippers, Phoenix, Denver and possibly Dallas. Gardner plans to work out for his hometown Trail Blazers on Wednesday and Seattle on Saturday, and he hopes for other workouts between.

Gardner planned to work out for as many as 12 teams.

'I'll accept responsibility for him not playing in Orlando,' says McCandless, who advised Gardner that signing with an agent would show NBA teams he's earnest about his intentions, and it also would allow the player to travel on the agent's dime.

McCandless says Gardner's ability warrants a late first-round pick or early second-pick, and he doesn't understand why the Orlando camp snubbed him. 'His body of work at Missouri speaks for itself,' he says.

An opportunity for Gardner to play as a freshman arose because the Tigers needed a perimeter defender. His role increased in his sophomore year, and then he flourished in his junior season.

'He's a great range shooter, obviously, and he has great size for off-the-ball play in the NBA,' McCandless says of the 6-5, 220-pound Gardner. 'He's got work ethic, he has all the tools, and you can't coach size.'

Another former Portland prep player, Chris Rodgers, who played collegiately at Arizona, hopes to impress an NBA team with his on-the-ball defense. So does Gardner, who believes his size and strength will help him defend quicker pros. 'I've been working on footwork and speed, and I haven't got any bad feedback about it yet,' Gardner says.

Gardner, who has been working out mostly in Carson, Calif., has heard - and read - the doubters who say he needs to handle the ball better and that he can't dribble to his left or get his own shot consistently. But, in the end, 'being able to shoot (from long range) is a great asset to have,' and he 'exploited' the talent at Missouri, he says.

'Most of the time when I shot 3s (at Missouri), my feet were way behind the line,' he adds. Shooting long range 'has always been my strength.'

Gardner wants to be drafted, even though going in the second round would limit his chances of signing with an NBA team where he might fit in the best. He says playing in the NBDL wouldn't be disappointing, especially after hearing from former Portland players Ime Udoka and Aaron Miles about the league.

'I know my situation, and I know what I have to do,' Gardner says. 'The ultimate goal is to play at the highest level, the NBA. But I just want to play basketball. I'm confident I'll be picked up by an NBA team.'

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