Senior James Gardner seems to effectively balance the individual and team aspects as a multisport athlete for the New Haven Bulldogs.
Gardner was on last year's sectional winning football and basketball teams then, individually, advanced to the state finals in track and field where he finished 10th in the long jump (22 feet, 1 inch) and qualified in the high jump.
“It motivates me a lot because it builds my confidence,” he said. “Going to state, to experience that, I want to carry that feeling over to a team sport and help the team experience that, to make it far. I want them to experience that feeling.”
Basketball actually comes “a close second” to track in his hierarchy of sports, as he also competed in the regional-qualifying 400-meter relay team.
“I love running, that's why I have a motor in basketball,” he said. “ I can stay in the whole game if I have to. Running, jumping is what I love to do in track.
“Going from one sport to the next, each sport helps certain areas of my body. I get stronger in football, basketball helps with my quickness and track helps with my speed and jumping ability.
“If I use my experience from getting other things like picking out the bad things in teams, helping other players make smart decisions, also not only making the smart decisions but also in school, too.”
The smart decisions are contagious as coach Bruce Stephens sees the effect Gardner's leadership abilities has on his teammates.
“He's the first one in the weight room. He gets up early; he texts the other guys, picks guys up, saying, 'If you can't make it, I'll give you a ride,'” Stephens said. “On the court, he just doesn't ever quit. He doesn't get tired. He has a motor. He's always going hard. Sometimes leadership isn't what you say, It's what you do.
“I think you can see so much confidence. He believes in himself, and I think his belief in himself has carried over. (His teammates) follow his lead. So just having had success before, I think it helps him walk into any sport and knowing he can win.”
The Bulldogs opened the season with a 94-77 win over Northrop on Tuesday and play host to Blackhawk Christian today.
Last season, Gardner averaged 10 points, 4.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game.
“I look for a big year with him with the fact that defensively, he's always stepped up for the challenge,” Stephens said. “I think he'll continue. I think he'll carry that and I'll see more of him offensively.
“I think we've worked well together, at least in practice, they share the ball. They're looking to get the best outcome regardless of who takes the shot. I've seen guys get on guys for not shooting the ball. I've seen the team work so far. One of the things I think we need to improve is defensively.”