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Sharp-Shooting Rookie Gears Up for His Freshman Campaign in Cleveland
Draft picks always come with a little intrigue. Nobody is a sure thing.
Like most 19-year-olds, Cavaliers rookie Darius Garland’s resume isn’t exactly overflowing. After winning four-straight high school state titles in Tennessee, Garland played just four full games at Vanderbilt – suffering a meniscus injury to his left knee in his fifth, a home matchup against Kent State.
He didn’t play in either of Cleveland’s two Summer League stints and has barely gotten his feet wet through the Wine & Gold’s four-game preseason schedule. When Wednesday’s home opener rolls around, fans (and coaches and media) will be champing at the proverbial bit to see the kid play.
“The Cavs have really put a lot of trust in me,” said Garland. “I only really played in four (college) games, so that shows a lot. So, I'm really excited to get going. It's the 50th year of the franchise and it's going to be really fun.”
One of three Cavaliers with a father-son NBA connection, Garland is the sharp-shooting scion of former NBA player, Winston Garland. He was a five-star recruit out of Brentwood Academy and, primarily through his family’s relationship with Bryce Drew, committed to Vanderbilt as the top recruit in school history.
He got off to a scorching start – leading both teams with 24 points in a win over Winthrop in his Vandy debut, going 9-for-15 from the floor to go with four assists. In his next game, against Kevin Porter’s Southern California squad, Garland paced the Commodores with 19 points, going 3-of-5 from long-distance in the win. (Porter finished with 14 points, four boards and a pair of blocks for USC.)
After a clunker against Alcorn State, he bounced back with a vengeance in a win against Liberty – going off for 33 points, canning 12-of-18 shots, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc.
That would essentially be the end of his time in Nashville. Less than three minutes into his fifth game, Garland was lost for the season.
By that time, Garland was already all over NBA scouts’ radar, and after wowing the Cavaliers brass in a pre-Draft workout, the 6-2, 175-pounder was tabbed by Cleveland as the No. 5 overall pick this past June.
Although he didn’t play with the Cavs Summer League squads in Utah or Las Vegas, Garland was still in the gym at Cleveland Clinic Courts all summer – working with vets and learning the NBA game.
”I'm getting a lot of help from, like, all the guys on the team. Larry's been around all summer, and he's helped me a lot. Double-T, Tristan, that's my guy. Jordan (Clarkson). They’ve all been showing me a lot of love and basically telling me what I need to do and just how to be a good pro.”
Garland got some early education on being a good pro from his father, Winston, who played with five different teams – the Warriors, Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets and Timberwolves – over seven NBA seasons.
”It helps a lot, for sure, having a dad in the NBA,” said Garland. “He's been through everything, so I just want to follow in his footsteps. He's teaching me things that he wishes he could have done when he was in the league. So, he's just trying to just show me the ropes.”
John Beilein has maintained from the day after Cleveland drafted him that he envisions a backcourt featuring both Garland and last year’s top pick, Collin Sexton. The Young Bull, coming off a stellar rookie season, has some history with his new running-mate.
"If I'm playing well and we're winning, everything else will come."
Darius Garland, on goals for his rookie season in Cleveland
”Collin and I have played a lot against each other and a lot with each other, said Garland. “I know him really well and I really like Collin's game. He and I in the same backcourt – it could be really scary.”
That’s the playing with Sexton part. What about playing against him?
”I played against him in high school,” smiled the Gary, Indiana native. “He won the game, but it was a bad game. We shot, like, 38 percent from the field and (his team) only won by four. Statistically, I think (Sexton) shot, like, 20 free throws. He was a senior that year, so they gave him a lot of leeway. He was just starting to get all the hype and all the pub.
”He really killed us.”
There’s also been some handwringing over whether the two can co-exist in the same backcourt. Are there enough shots? Who will be the primary ballhandler? How will it look defensively?
Garland isn’t fretting it.
”I mean, there's a lot of doubters in this world, but you just have to stay connected and play for each other,” said Garland. “We're all trying to win for this organization. So, it's about us.”
The competition is about to get fierce for the wide-eyed rookie – as it does for all incoming freshman. It’s been said that the Association has become a point guard’s league. Nightly battles at the point are not for the faint of heart.
”At that position, every night is going to be really tough; you have some of the top guys in the league at the point guard position, so I have to come with it every night.”
But the kid with the pure shooting stroke and infectious smile knows that if he plays his game, everything should fall into place. And if he can reach the same heights Sexton did a season ago, the Wine & Gold will boast one of the most dynamic backcourts in the Conference.
”I'm just trying to get some wins this year, to just come in and play my role and get wins,” concluded Garland. “That's my focus, I'm locked in on getting wins. I'm not really worried by anything else.
"If I'm playing well and we're winning, everything else will come.”