For Thomas Gardner, Missouri presented the ideal place for his college basketball future.
During his short time in the program, though, Gardner has learned that the move from high school basketball to Big 12 Conference basketball will be a difficult one.
After academically having troubles at Jefferson High in Portland, Ore., Gardner said the challenges of college academics present a big adjustment.
“On the basketball court, that’s something that is natural to me, a natural ability that I can improve,” Gardner said. “In the classroom, I kind of struggled through high school. … That’s the biggest transition for me.”
Gardner said he often procrastinated on his schoolwork and received phone calls from teachers informing him about work, but this remedy for procrastination does not exist in college. With his new freedom has come an obligation to place a larger emphasis on his studies.
“Back in high school, I almost didn’t make it because of my GPA and my SAT, and that really humbled me to take advantage of all my time and time management,” he said.
As Gardner’s accountability and academic awareness adjust to college academics, the same can be said for basketball. He goes from a starring role in high school to a college in one of the most competitive conferences in the nation.
“High school life was more like a training process for me,” he said. “In high school, you can make mistakes in the classroom and on the court, and you can still play. Coming here, it was a big transition. The game is played a lot faster, a whole different level. You have to stop and think more on the college level.”
Gardner, who averaged 24.6 points his senior season, said rarely was his high school team punished in practice for a turnover, but he has quickly learned at Missouri that an on-court mistake would be noticed.
Gardner, an All-Portland and All-Portland Interscholastic League player his senior year, wanted that level of pressure and responsibility at the college he chose to attend.
“(He’s) very intense on the court,” Gardner said. “He’s going to push you to get better on the court and off the court as a person. That was something that was very important to me.”
Entering his fifth season at MU, Snyder, 37, has an 84-49 record and has reached the NCAA Tournament each season.
Yet, Gardner didn’t base his decision solely on the presence of an up-and-coming coach. Gardner also wanted to find a family environment in the locker room as well as a community that welcomed basketball.
MU fit Gardner’s other two expectations.
“I think for our team to be successful on the court, we need to be together off the court,” Gardner said. “I think that’s something that has really helped with this year’s team. Everybody gets along with everybody else. There’s not one person that everybody dislikes. It’s like we’re brothers. On the court and off the court, that’s how we see each other, as brothers.”
The rosy description of his teammates, though, doesn’t mean Gardner shies away from the competition. Gardner missed practice Saturday after he mildly sprained his left elbow diving for a loose ball Friday. He has since returned to practice.
Then in Black and Gold Game on Oct. 25, Gardner played a crucial part in the Black team’s come-from-behind 56-48 win, scoring a game-high 17 points.
Senior forward Josh Kroenke said though Gardner, whom ESPN.com rated 24th in its top 100 prospects, is new to college basketball, Gardner has shown a desire to improve.
“The main thing for him is that he’s always asking questions and always has a willingness to learn,” Kroenke said. “I think sometimes when you come in as a highly touted freshman, like Thomas is, sometimes you have a tendency to pull back and rely on what they learned in the past. I think Thomas, Linas (Kleiza) and Spencer (Laurie) have all done a great job opening up and lending their ears to what everybody has to say.”
As for the atmosphere in Columbia, Gardner said he has felt just as he wanted: welcome. At the team’s first practice, Mizzou Madness on Oct. 18, 4,218 attended, and 5,296 showed up for the Black and Gold Game.
“I felt that it was great,” Gardner said. “The atmosphere was good. It felt like we were real welcome, and the community was really into the basketball team.”
Gardner was in the recruitment process when he first took notice of his third selection criteria.
“After I took my (official) visit, I knew Missouri was the place for me,” Gardner said.