Garner’s unselfish play is key to Raiders’ success

WARREN – One day fans of the Warren G. Harding Raiders basketball team are going to wake up and realize how much they miss King Garner.

At a time when much of basketball on all levels is about flash and dash, a player with Garner’s team-oriented skills can get lost quicker than a child on a New York City subway. Sometimes the only “oohhs” and “aahhs” he hears are from Raiders coach Andy Vlajkovich, who can’t go more than 1 minute into a post-game interview without mentioning Garner’s contributions.

“The thing with him is his scoring numbers aren’t big, but if you understand the game, you understand how important he is to us,” Vlajkovich said.

Some might call it old-school, fundamentally sound basketball. When Garner gets his hands on the ball, his thoughts are always about how he can help his teammates do what’s necessary to get a win.

“He gets us organized by being incredibly smart and unselfish and making the right play at the right time,” Vlajkovich said. “We have some scorers and we have an inside presence. King accepts his role as being the glue guy. They are guys that help you win.”

Garner’s scoring average is close to four points a game, which doesn’t say much about his overall contributions. Although he stands 6-1, he averages 4.5 rebounds. No one on the floor anticipates action better, which is shown in averages of 2.5 steals and 3.5 assists a game.

If high school games were played at a NBA length of 48 minutes instead 32, Garner would be a double-double machine, with an occasional triple-double mixed in.

The formula is simple in Garner’s thinking. He’s not concerned in the least about individual accomplishments. The only goal is to win.

“I’m not worried about stats,” Garner said. “At the end of the day I want to help my team win.”

As far as the best feeling he gets playing basketball, Garner says, “The feeling after we win and we go back to the locker room and feel good about ourselves.”

Much of what Garner does during a game is based first and foremost on hard work. No one is successful on the defensive end without having a desire to out-work the opposition.

After work ethic comes the technical side of the game. A 6-1 player doesn’t get more rebounds than a 6-5 player without proper anticipation and technique. Steals don’t occur out of nowhere. It’s a matter of being in the right place and knowing when to take the gamble.

“There’s a reason they call them hustle stats,” Garner said. “You just have to go get the ball. It’s more like if you play hard you’re going to get a rebound.”

Garner is listed on the roster sheet as a guard, but he’s not a point guard in the classic definition of the position. There are times he dribbles the ball upcourt, and there are times when he posts high against zone defenses so that he’s centralized at a spot from which he can distribute to each of his teammates.

Occasionally it appears that Garner might be too conscious of helping others. Instead of putting the ball on the floor and driving to the basket, he’s more concerned about passing to an open player.

“When teams go to a zone you want a guy in the high post that can score and make good decisions,” Vlajkovich said. “That’s King. He had six assists the other night (in a win over Niles McKinley). He made good decisions.

“I’ve never inhibited his scoring. I’ve never tried to stop his scoring, but at the same time as a team guy he knows he can score. He has the green light. With some players you try to stop them from trying to score all the time. With King, we have to try to enhance his scoring a little bit.”

Vlajkovich can’t remember the last time Garner came off the court during a game. All that playing time means that he’s bound to make an occasional mistake.

“Sometimes his turnovers are a little higher because he makes so many decisions for us,” Vlajkovich said. “Quarterbacks in football are going to have interceptions, and guys that make decisions in basketball will have turnovers. He always tries to make the right play. That kid has all the respect from me.”

Garner also excels in the classroom, pulling in a recent 3.6 grade-point average. He plans to attend college in pursuit of a career as an occupational therapist.

Vlajkovich has learned that Garner might consider a coaching career, which sits well with him.

“I told him I’d hire him the day he graduates,” Vlajkovich said.