Darius Garland is one of the top prospects taken in last month’s NBA draft. He’s also one of the least tested.
Five games into his freshman season at Vanderbilt University, the Gary, Indiana native suffered a knee injury after attempting a second-half layup on November 23. Luckily, the injury was localized to his meniscus, which was surgically repaired four days later. In January, Garland released a statement on Twitter announcing his impending withdrawal from Vanderbilt.
“…I suffered a season-ending injury,” he said. “After considerable deliberation with my family and medical staff, I am withdrawing from Vanderbilt this semester to prepare for the NBA draft.”
Garland’s limited body of work didn’t prevent the Cleveland Cavaliers from taking him with the fifth overall pick, making him a key part of a rebuilding job led by new coach John Beilein.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Garland Had a Dominant High School Career in Tennessee Before Attending Vanderbilt
Garland first picked up a basketball at age five and it wasn’t long before his natural knack for the sport outgrew his hometown. By the time he was 11, Garland was playing for travel teams in Nashville, Tennessee whose players were two grades older. When Garland reached middle school, his talent prompted an agonizing relocation for the Garland family.
“We thought about (sending) him to Andrean, we thought about Munster. We had always talked about relocating. My mother had lived in Tennessee and she liked it. I just talked to the family and everybody was on board. It was a big leap of faith,” Garland’s father, Winston Garland told the Chicago Tribune.
Garland admits that the move was difficult, but he quickly adjusted and excelled at Brentwood Academy, where he joined the starting lineup of the school’s varsity team as an 8th grader. As a freshman, Garland led his team to a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) Division II-AA state championship. That same year, he was one of 27 players named to the 2015-16 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team.
By the time he graduated in 2018, Garland had amassed four state titles, three Tennessee Mr. Basketball designations and was ranked as one of the nation’s top high school point guards.
2. Despite the Hype, Garland Isn’t Without Some Weaknesses
Any time an athlete suffers an injury to a major joint, there is inevitably going to be concern about their ability to consistently perform. When that injury is to the knee in a sport that demands quick side-to-side movements, the prognosis becomes even dicier. However, Garland appears to have dodged a bullet by managing to keep the major ligaments of his knee intact. He may have prolonged his healing time by opting to have surgery, but his new club doesn’t appear to be worried, and neither does Garland.
Garland told ESPN: “I humbly say this, I think I am the best (guard) in the draft. I mean, I think I can do everything that an NBA team wants me to do.”
That said, his injured knee isn’t the only thing that has some concerned. At 6’3” and only 175lbs Garland lacks the size to effectively defend against the Eric Bledsoe type of players who use brute strength to create scoring opportunities.
Garland was also turnover-prone at Vanderbilt, where he had 13 assists and 15 turnovers in five games.
3. Garland is Drawing Comparisons to Kyrie Irving
Not unlike the last superb point guard to be drafted by the Cavs after missing most of his collegiate rookie season—Kyrie Irving—Garland can score with ease. Irving who sustained a severe ligament injury to his right big toe during the ninth game of his rookie year at Duke went on to be named the 2011-12 NBA Rookie of the Year. In his first season with the Cavs, Irving averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game.
Although the sample size of Garland’s collegiate career is small, his numbers are nonetheless impressive. He averaged 16.2 points per game on 53.7 percent shooting, including 47.8 percent from beyond the arc. Garland also impressed Cavs scouts with his scoring ability during a private workout prior to the draft.
”I think I shot the ball really well in the private workout and I think that’s what caught coach’s eye,” Garland explained.
Whether or not Garland’s prior scoring prowess really warrants Irving comparisons remains to be seen.
4. The Cavs Hope Garland & Coach John Beilein Can Help Revive Their Struggling Team
The Cavs, coming off a 19-63 season, will be looking to rebuild under coach John Beilein. Beilein comes to the Cavs after spending 37 years as a college coach, the last 12 of which were at Michigan. Under Beilein’s direction, the Wolverines made it to nine NCAA tournaments and two national title games. The move may put the Wolverines in a tight spot, but the Cavs are confident that Beilein will be able to bring his winning ways to Cleveland.
“He’s one of the best tactical coaches around, college or pro probably. He’s an innovator…He develops young players and has an instant bond with [them],” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert said during Beilein’s introductory press conference.
It’s a sentiment shared by Beilein, who said at the same press conference that he “loves the young roster” and the potential the Cavs have for the future.
During the club’s post-draft press conference, Beilein talked about the potential tandem of last year’s All-Rookie Collin Sexton and Garland. It’s a pairing that Beilein says will be beautiful. “…they’re going to make me a much better coach than I am.”
Sexton, 2019’s Second Team All-Rookie point guard, will battle Garland for the number one spot. “It will all depend on who we’re playing and who’s playing well, who’s injured and hopefully we can just morph into whatever shape we need to take for games as time goes on,” Beilein told reporters.
5. Darius’ Dad, Winston Garland, Played 7 Seasons in the NBA
Garland’s father, Winston Garland, was also a professional ballplayer and spent seven seasons in the NBA. The second round (40th pick overall) played in 511 games recording 4,799 points. In his most successful professional season, Garland appeared in 79 games and averaged 14.5 points per game.
During his stint in the NBA, Garland played for the Golden State Warriors (1987-1990), Los Angeles Clippers (1990-91), Denver Nuggets (1991-92), Houston Rockets (1992-93) and Minnesota Timberwolves 1994-95). He also played one year professionally in Italy where he won the Italian Cup.
Long since retired, Garland was inducted into the Missouri State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2013.