6’6 pepperdine standout guard jelani gardner recently signed with russian pro team universitet surgut, where he sat down with our man in russia, alex b.
read the interview to find out about his favortite players, what brought him to russia, how he overcame his kidney disease, what kind of tunes he listens to, etc…
welcome to the fam jelani, we are proud to have you aboard as an official k1x warrior!
q: how do you feel in cold Russia after playing in France? What did you hear abour Russia before you came.
J: The cold is not that tough for me, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and currently live in Phoenix. So I get enough heat! The cold is refreshing for me and my body responds well to the cold when I play.
q: how did you start to play and your career in general?
J.G: I’ve been playing basketball since i was maybe 3 or 4 years old. I continued and in high school I was a Mcdonald All American, and USA today top 5. I signed with Cal out of high school,and was freshman of the year in the Pac 10. Sophomore year, I was diagnosed with kidney disease, the same as Alonzo Mourning and Sean Elliot. Difference was they were already in the NBA.They both returned to successful nba careers, but the kidney problem kept me out of the nba. I went to the draft in 99 with elton Brand and Steve Francis, but at the time my kidneys were failing so I never passed the medical. I continued to play in Europe, for 3 years then my mother gave me a kidney at 26. Through the blessings of my mother and God I’m here today playing as strong as ever!
q: When did you get acquainted with k1x first time?
J. G : I signed to play Australia in 2006-2007 with the Townsville crocodiles. Most players were signed with And 1, but one of my teamates was signed with K1x. I was intrigued by the originality, and once I started to learn mor about the brand, alot of what it stands for is what I stand for. I try to show my heart and will every time I play, and one of our slogans is ” you can’t teach Heart”! which I agree. I also really like the style of the clothes, it fits me well, and has a street or hip-hop edge, kinda like me…
q: Basketball – what is it for you – your passion, job…?
J: Ballin for me is everything! It’s my life! It’s something I feel God has Blessed me with the natural ability to play this game, and I try to work to get better and better. I have an extreme passion for basketball,and often during games, I find myself thanking God for a second chance to play this game. It was taken away from me at 25 for 1 season, and it put a different type of passion and hunger in me. The money is just icing on the cake, I love the challenge of helping your team win, and the love and thrill of dominating a game. When you get the chance.
q: What do you think about basketball in Russia?
J: I really like the Russian league. It’s a proffessional league, in terms of the players and the organizations. The Russian culture is agressive and the league plays that way. I’m enjoying my time in Surgut despite peoples opinion of the city. It’s a family atmosphere around here.
q: Who is your favorite player?
J: It’s hard to have a favorite player when you might be older than most of the best players nowadays. When I was younger my favorite was Penny hardaway, I liked his versitility. He can basically do everything on the court, and do it with great style. Not because he was trying, but because he had the skills. In this era I like Lebron and Kobe, Kobe for his killer instinct and overall skill, Lebron, because he is the chosen one. (laughs)
q: In your point of view what was the greatest game you ever played?
j: It had to be a game from my 2 seasons in Epinal France pro B. When you say pro b you think B not A? It was a good level, of course the players are not as polished as Russia superleague A, but one could argue they play harder. Any ways we beat a 1st place team and i had 31 points 11 rebounds and 9 ass in the victory, that was good performance, not just the numbers, but helping my team beat a top team.
q: Do you like streetball?
j: I grew up on streetball, everyday dribbling my ball to the park after school to play pick up. That’s where you get alot of your heart, especially L.A. You have to earn respect to be able to play, then once you have respect, people are coming from all areas to see if you’re foreal. It’s fun, I have great memories and friendships from streetball. However I’ve retired from the asphalt, it’s hard on your body!
q: One of the k1x mottos is “you can’t teach heart” – do you agree or disagree and why?
j: I totally agree, cause in basketball, it’s always a point were you’re heart will be tested. Only the real or the strong want that ball when it’s time to succeed or fail. That’s what I play for, to always test my own heart, to see if I show up in the 4th qtr when the game is on the line. That’s when you show your heart to everybody in the arena, it’s a great feeling!
q: What music do you prefer?
j: I love hip-hop, my wife provides the R&B. Alot of it nonsense, but the good music is a soundtrack of my life. I really like to workout with my music, it gives me that extra push.
q: What is most important for you in any given game- to score, to pass, just to be a leader or to be a very good team player?
J: The most important is to win! Then I want to play a complete game, but one of my best talent is to open shots for my teammates. Then to perform when the pressure is on is what I judge myself on, did I show my heart when things look tough? My teamates feed off the energy and when we win the bond is never forgotten.
q: How do you spend you free time in Surgut?
j: Internet is vital here, I might play a little nba live to try and beat the computer. Watch a game DVD to study the opponent. But they keep you pretty busy, with 2 practices per day. So when you get home, you find you don’t have enough free time. Time to go to work now…