Davante Gardner has spent almost all of his first three seasons at Marquette coming off the bench. There was a 12 game stretch in his sophomore year where he was in the starting lineup because of the knee injury suffered by Chris Otule, but a knee injury of his own sent Gardner back to coming off the bench while Jamil Wilson took over the starting spot.
His impact coming off the bench for Marquette earned him second team all-Big East last season, and he was recognized as the best bench player in the league with the Sixth Man of the Year award. But Gardner doesn't want to be known as a bench guy any more.
Having slimmed down to 283 pounds after his experience with the World University Games training camp this summer, the guy we've nicknamed Ox is determined to play more than ever.
As he told Fox Sports Wisconsin's Andrew Gruman:
"I want to get up and down the floor and play more minutes this year," Gardner said. "I can move way better on defense now, I can guard four-men now.
"I'm going to prove (Buzz) wrong this year. When I first got here I had a lot of doubters. Even Buzz doubted me like he always does. I think I've proved a lot of people wrong, and I'm going to keep doing that."
"Everything is going to work off of me," Gardner said of how his improved body will help offensively. "I'm not going to make any stupid mistakes this year like I did in the past years. I'm just going to be smart with it this year."
Now, these quotes are from Media Day, which was back before Jameel McKay bailed out to paying his own way at Iowa State for a semester. Is head coach Buzz Williams going to find himself unable to use Otule and Gardner at the same time just to preserve both men? Or will Buzz find a rotation of players that includes Jamil Wilson, Steve Taylor, Jr., and perhaps Deonte Burton at the four and five slots in the lineup that will allow a prolonged display of the OxTule? I guess we'll have to see.
Minimum Expectation: Gardner averaged 11.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 21 and a half minutes per game. According to KenPom.com, this made him one of the 40 most offensively efficient players in the country. Now here's where it gets interesting: Gardner broke 25 minutes in 11 games last year, 10 in Big East play and against Wisconsin as well. In those games, he averaged 14.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. So, if he thinks he can play more than ever, I'm going to side with him. Let's set that bar at 14 points and 6 rebounds, just to cut him a little bit of a break.
Wildest Dream: Well, he's already on the preseason all-Big East first team, so there's really only one place to go on this. How about 17 points, 7 rebounds, and Doug McDermott hears his footsteps in the Player of the Year race? Buzz did let Gardner participate in that three point shooting contest at Madness, by the way...
Worst Nightmare: Buzz can't bring himself to play Gardner more than 20-22 minutes a game for team purposes, and he's limited in what he can accomplish on the floor. 12 points and five rebounds is all he has in him, but he's still the most exciting offensive player that Marquette has.