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STAYING READY: KIWI GARDNER CHASES NBA DREAM

In SLAM magazine on August 6, 2014 at 10:11 am
Photo courtesy of Getty Images/NBA

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/NBA

The Warriors and the Lakers traded baskets back and forth in an overtime NBA Summer League game in July. But the fast-paced game slowed down for Kiwi Gardner, the fresh-faced, 21-year-old point guard from Oakland who cracked Golden State’s roster after spending a year with the Warriors’ D-League affiliate in Santa Cruz.

Gardner stood up from the bench midway through and realized where he was. He saw the Lakers jerseys and the NBA logos. He saw Steve Kerr coaching on the sidelines and other legends watching in the stands.

This is what standing on an NBA court felt like; this is where he’s always wanted to be. And like any player on the outside looking in, uncertain when this moment will come again, Gardner tried to salvage every conversation or play around him.

“I feel so close but still I feel so far away. You know it’s right there,” Gardner says of the NBA. “I’m really looking to, you know, break in. Break in the door sometime soon.”

After playing a few minutes here and there throughout the summer, he exploded for seven points in a single minute of the Warriors’ final game against the Bucks.

Every minute counts for Gardner, who remembers the feeling of not having any. He remembers traveling to different cities to D-League tryouts last year.

With a hundred bucks for his entry fee in one hand, his NBA dream in the other, Gardner tried out for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Idaho Stampede, Bakersfield Jam, L.A. D-Fenders, Reno Bighorns and the Warriors.

Gardner, 5-7, had something to prove. He was known for his dazzling dribbling moves on YouTube, but had little college experience. He committed to play at Providence, but never gained eligibility to play. Then he transferred to a JC in Texas, Midland College, playing in just nine games before deciding to turn pro. Gardner was undrafted.

But everyone who paid their hundred bucks to get in the gym had their own back stories, too. None of it mattered anymore; everyone at D-League tryouts wanted the same thing: a chance.

“It’s hard to even get a real look in that kind of setting. In that situation, it’s hard to make the people that’s important, or make the people that’s looking, even know you exist,” Gardner says. “I was hanging on by a thread the whole time.”

Gardner didn’t try to do too much. Knock down the shot when it’s open, make the extra pass, push the ball up the floor as quick as possible; he tried to play a role and play it well. (READ MORE.)

BEYOND THE BEAM

In OC Register on October 20, 2013 at 10:04 am
Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton Athletics

Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton Athletics

Carol Johnston didn’t see herself the way others saw her. Born without a right arm below her elbow, Johnston fell in love with gymnastics and didn’t think twice about competing.

She had done everything else up to that point, learning how to tie her shoes, braid her hair, put on clothes, run, eat. Having one arm was normal – she didn’t know anything else.

“Carol was more concerned about being 4-foot-10 than she was about having one arm,” said Johnston’s former Cal State Fullerton teammate and roommate, Julie Bowse.

Reporters from around the country would line up at Cal State Fullerton meets from 1977 to 1980 to catch a glimpse of her. She was even the subject of a Disney movie, “Lefty,” in 1980.

To the outside world, she was ‘Carol the one-armed-gymnast.’

But to those who knew her best, she was just Carol. Another member of the team. A college student. A 19-year-old who loved double-stuffed Oreos.

Johnston wanted to be known for being a great gymnast, not for being different.

But she was different, and she inspired countless young girls and women with her athletic success.

The two-time All-American on balance beam and floor exercise was a conference champion, a national championship runner-up and a key member of the Fullerton squad that became one of the most dominant gymnastics teams in the country.

Johnston, now 55, was inducted into the Cal State Fullerton Athletics Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Friday.

The woman who spent her life overcoming odds is now facing something beyond human control. A year and a half ago, Johnston was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She struggles to start and finish sentences, and her memory is declining. But like living with one arm, she is once again trying to live as normal a life as possible with the same spirit that captivated all who watched her compete.

“We want to own the disease instead of letting it own us,” said her husband, Scott D. Koniar. “It’s hard to draw inspiration from something like this, but Carol is the same wonderful person that I met, loved and married. Her spirit is so ingrained in her that it has not changed.” (READ MORE.)

STANDARD BEARER: TEN YEARS INTO WNBA AND TAURASI DOMINANT AS EVER

In SLAM magazine on August 24, 2013 at 12:19 pm
Photo courtesy of Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports

Photo courtesy of Rob Schumacher/azcentral sports

It was a routine trip down the floor. Diana Taurasi dribbled the ball in transition, alternating between her right and left hand. The Mercury were well on their way to blowing out the Shock earlier this month, but Taurasi didn’t slow it up to reset the offense.

With a hesitation move, she slid past her defender for the easy left-handed layup. Already backpedaling the other way for defense, Taurasi didn’t see that she became the fastest WNBA player to amass 6,000 points, reaching the feat in 25 games fewer than it took the previous record-holder, Lauren Jackson.

“I was in the moment,” Taurasi says. “I really didn’t know.”

Late that night, long after talking to media on what it all meant, she finally had a moment to herself. A moment of acute awareness: She had just played her 291st career WNBA game. She had spent over 9,000 minutes in the WNBA accomplishing the mark. And now she found herself in her 10th year in the league.

A decade. Of course, she knew that already. Her body always finds a way to remind her during back-to-back road trips. Yet the word began to take on new significance.

She started to get ready for bed. But she didn’t play back the record-setting layup in her head, or snippets from any other part of her life that got her there: three consecutive National Championships at UConn, two rings with the Mercury, and three Olympic Gold medals. She didn’t bask in her glory because that night was like any other night for Taurasi.

“I go to sleep every night thinking I’m not good enough,” Taurasi says. “That makes me go to the gym early. It keeps me there late. I have this fear of not being good enough, and that let’s me know I’m going to be ready by the time I step on the court.”

Fear isn’t a word we’re used to associating with Taurasi: The one with the bulletproof confidence, the loudest trash talker on any court she steps foot on. But fear doesn’t mean the same thing to Taurasi that it means to us.

It isn’t rooted in insecurity—far from it. She knows she’s one of the best to shoot a basketball; she expects herself to make every shot she takes. Instead, the fear is her fuel, her competitive edge.

She needs it. Because when she’s putting up an extra hundred shots, she’s thinking about facing herself when she goes to sleep at night. She won’t tolerate waking up and not living up to the player she believed herself to be the night before. She won’t accept not measuring up to the standard she created for herself as a kid.

This fear tells her that she’ll never be “good enough” because she can always do better.

That’s why at 31 years old, she’s having one of her best seasons yet. And in a league focusing all of its attention on the young, those that will elevate the game to new heights in the future, namely the “3 to See” in Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins—Taurasi is proving that she’s still in her prime and dominant as ever. (READ MORE.)

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