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Guard Is Keeping Coaches on Hold

September 16, 1993|JEFF FELLENZER

"Can you hold on for a second?"

For anyone calling Jelani Gardner's house these days, those are the words heard most often during any telephone conversation. Gardner, it seems, is as adept using call waiting as he is running a fast break on the basketball court.

A 6-foot-5 senior point guard at Bellflower St. John Bosco, Gardner is one of the most recruited players in the country.

Last season, his first at St. John Bosco after transferring from La Puente Bishop Amat, Gardner averaged 19.7 points a game and was a Southern Section Division II first-team selection. Last weekend, he was a standout at the invitation-only Nike Career Developmental Weekend in Beaverton, Ore., which brought together 40 elite players.

While talking to a reporter recently, Gardner excused himself to take five phone calls in a period of 20 minutes--all from college coaches. First up was Syracuse assistant Bernie Fine. Then came, in order, coaches Eddie Fogler (South Carolina), Denny Crum (Louisville), Bill Frieder (Arizona State) and Lute Olson (Arizona).

"A lot of schools are wondering whether I'm going to commit to UCLA, like the other guys have," says Gardner, referring to the unwritten commitments the Bruins have received in recent weeks from 6-9 forward J.R Henderson of Bakersfield and 6-5 forward Kris Johnson of Crenshaw High. Each is expected to sign a letter of intent during the Nov. 10-17 signing period, along with 6-5 swingman Toby Bailey of Loyola High, who committed to UCLA in July.

Although he acknowledges a strong interest in UCLA ("It has been a dream of mine to go there," he said), Gardner insists he will wait until April before signing. Officially, he is also considering Arizona State, Arizona, California, Syracuse, Arkansas, Minnesota and South Carolina (Gardner's father, Tommy, is from Columbia, S.C.).

Arizona State is making a strong pitch for Gardner. The Sun Devils sent him his first recruiting letter, in the seventh grade. In addition, Gardner's uncle, sports agent James Casey, represents Clipper guard Gary Grant, who played for Frieder at Michigan and speaks highly of him when he and Gardner work out together.

"The only environment I really know is UCLA," said Gardner, who has been a regular at Bruin home games since he was in eighth grade. "But I want to see some different environments during the basketball season. I also want to see if any of the playing styles change, or if any of the coaches leave, which could happen if I commit early."

Gardner, who plays with a flair sometimes reminiscent of his idol, former Memphis State All-America guard Anfernee Hardaway, the third player chosen in the last NBA draft, may be the best shooter among this year's high school point guards. His range easily extends to 25 feet. Critics contend, however, that Gardner can be too offensive-minded.

But Gardner says he prides himself on being a complete player.

"I think I can play both guard positions," he says. "But I just think I'm better with the ball in my hands, setting up other people. I really enjoy passing the ball. It's such a great feeling when you make a great pass and a guy dunks it."


Mark Madsen of Danville, Calif., a 6-foot-8, 235-pound power forward, has narrowed his choices to UCLA and Stanford. Madsen plans to play his freshman season in college, then serve as a Mormon missionary for two years. . . . Add UCLA: The Bruins are also hoping to get a commitment from 6-11 Omm'A Givens of Aberdeen, Wash., one of the top center prospects in the country. Givens, who has been telling friends for some time that UCLA is his top choice, has trips planned to UCLA, Seton Hall, Kentucky, Arizona and, possibly, Arizona State. One interesting sidelight to Givens' recruitment: He and Jelani Gardner have become close friends over the past few months. The two roomed together at the Nike camp last weekend. Gardner now says he and Givens "definitely want to play together in college."

USC has entered the recruiting picture for 5-9 guard Prince Fowler of Las Vegas Western and 6-3 guard Dave Rula of Jackson, Miss. The quick Fowler is also considering Arizona State, Arizona, Oklahoma and Arkansas. He was impressive in several summer tournaments, even prompting a phone call from the Duke coaching staff. Rula, a good shooter, attracted attention from college coaches for his play at summer camps. His list includes USC, Arizona State (his uncle is a doctor in Tempe, Ariz.), Clemson, Auburn, Mississippi and Mississippi State.

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