December 5, 2007 > Former Ohlone College star making it in NCAA Division I basketball
Former Ohlone College star making it in NCAA Division I basketball
By Biff Jones
Photos By Don Jedlovec
Willis Gardner, a 6'1" point guard for Colorado State returned to the Bay Area on Saturday, Nov. 24, to lead the Rams against Stanford. CSU opened the season with two exhibition wins before losing its regular season opener 75-39 to Montana. Next up was the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska. In the opener against Oregon State, Gardner led the team with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the 69-56 victory. Second round play saw the Rams defeat Tennessee State 87-68 putting CSU in the title game. In the Championship game against Portland State, Gardner again shined by pouring in a game high 21 points as the Rams captured the Fairbanks Classic 64-63. With about a week off between games in Alaska and at Stanford, Colorado State fell to the Cardinal, 73-53. The Rams seemed to have suffered a letdown after their successful run up north.
Gardner grew up back east and starred at Norristown High School in Norristown, PA. Upon graduation from Norristown, and without college scholarship offers, he enrolled at Luzerne, a small community college in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Even though he led his team to the conference championship and made the all-state community college team, things did not go as well as he had hoped during his freshman year. Gardner decided to transfer to Alvernia College, an NCAA Division III school in Reading, PA for his sophomore season. During the summer after his freshman year at Luzerne, he played in an all-star tournament in New York and played the best basketball of his life, scoring 100 points over two games. He caught several college coaches' eye during that tournament, and one telephoned a friend of his, John Peterson, Head Basketball Coach at Ohlone College in Fremont. After talking to Coach Peterson, Gardner was not sure whether to stay home and be with his family and friends or go off to California. He was going to stay until a week before school started, then his mom gave him a plane ticket and said he was going to California. Moms usually rule, and off he went to the Golden State.
While at Ohlone, Peterson took him under his wing, convinced him to hit the books hard, and with the help of mandatory study sessions every night, he slowly raised his GPA to 2.9. He had to sit out a year because of transfer rules, but was still able to play two years while attending Ohlone. During this time, Gardner put on a needed twenty pounds, improved his inconsistent jump shot and became an outstanding point guard. Last year, 2006-2007, Gardner's final one at Ohlone, he made first team all league, was the conference MVP and the major reason the Renegades ended up with an overall record of 28-4. Ohlone was ranked number one in the state for junior colleges much of the year, and they advanced to the elite eight in the state playoffs.
Now at Colorado State, where he has two years of eligibility left, Gardner hopes to lead this team to another elite eight or better in the "Big Dance" known as "March Madness". Gardner is majoring in education hoping to help "troubled kids" after graduation and when his basketball playing days are over. Willis Gardner has his priorities in order.
There is a new look to the Ohlone Team this year as thirteen players from last year's team graduated, and eleven of them received a scholarship to a four year college. Only sophomore Jeremiah Cardwell returns and he will be joined by twelve freshmen. Coach Peterson expects to have his new team gelling after the first of the year as prior to then, the team will play mostly road and tournament games. Next home game is Saturday, Jan. 5, 2008 at 5 p.m. on the Ohlone Campus, 43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont.