By DANNY WEBSTER
LAS VEGAS — Darius Garland could have spent the past six months wondering what would come of his future in the NBA.
He sat on the floor of Memorial Gym at Vanderbilt the night of Nov. 23, scared of what happened to his left knee. Garland didn’t know the severity; the only thing on his mind was finishing the next possession.
“Then I got into the locker room and I couldn’t straighten it, so I was like, ‘dang, what’s going on?’” Garland said. “When I got the results from the MRI, I was just pissed off.”
The prognosis was a torn meniscus. Garland’s college career was over after four-plus games at Vanderbilt.
Despite the first major injury of his life, Garland’s positivity never wavered. He knew the kind of player he was — a four-time state champion at Brentwood Academy who averaged nearly 28 points per game as a senior, and received offers from Duke, Kansas and Kentucky as a McDonald’s All-American.
But he chose Vanderbilt.
Had Garland and his family not moved from Gary, Indiana to Brentwood prior to his seventh-grade year, the Commodores might not have been at the forefront. The decision to move 449 miles away from his birthplace was more education-centered than anything for Garland.
Garland’s decision to stay home and play college basketball was an easy one. It helped that Bryce Drew was the head coach. Drew, the 16th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, played six seasons in the NBA.
“College helped a lot,” Garland said. “Playing with Coach Drew who played in the league as a point guard, just getting ideas and watching film every day really helped me a lot. From high school to college, it shaped me to who I am.”
Where Garland is now is a lot different than where he was on that November night at Vanderbilt. He’s gone from questioning his basketball future to wondering what the future holds as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers
Garland was drafted fifth overall by the Cavaliers on June 20, nearly six months to the day of his injury.
Cleveland’s selection of the 6-foot-2 guard comes one year after it drafted 6-foot-2 floor general Collin Sexton with the eighth selection in 2018. New Cavs coach John Beilein envisions the two of them playing together.
Sexton is expected to be the facilitator of the Cleveland offense with Garland playing more off the ball, further bolstering the comparisons he’s received of Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving — guards who can handle the ball and be a matchup nightmare in the halfcourt.
“We talked about that a lot. It truly is a two-guard front and it opens the floor so much for everyone,” Beilein said. “It allows the guards to have so much freedom. At the same time, they’ve got to be great teammates that see each other. The two of them are going to be beautiful together.”
It’s a tandem the Cavs hope propels them into the second chapter of the post-LeBron James saga in Cleveland. Much like that first go-round, when James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, the Cavs selected a point guard to lead them into the unknown; Irving.
This time, it’s Garland — along with Sexton — that will be asked to push the Cavs back to prominence.
“It’s going to be really fun and exciting,” Garland said. “We’ve got a lot of leaders like Kevin Love, Tristan [Thompson], and Collin as a leader on the floor. So, it’ll be really fun.”
Photo from Getty Images.