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Season Preview: CHD sits down with new Memphis assistant coach Jason Gardner

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with new Memphis assistant coach Jason Gardner about coaching with Josh Pastner at Memphis after being his teammate at Arizona.

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In July you joined your old teammate Josh Pastner’s staff at Memphis: why did you take the job, and what was Pastner like as a teammate? Josh was a phenomenal teammate: we always knew he would be very successful because he was always working. Being a coach here is something I have always dreamed about: when you are around successful people in a great community it is the kind of place where you want to be.

The Tigers made the switch from the C-USA to the brand-new American Athletic Conference during the off-season, what are your expectations for the upcoming season? This is going to be one of the top leagues in the country. It will be a fight every night from top to bottom and will prepare us for the tourney. The boys are excited about it and we have a chip on our shoulder to prove that we are 1 of the better teams in the country, but we still have a lot of work to do.

In 1998 you won a gold medal as part of team USA at the FIBA Americas U-18 Championship in the Dominican Republic.  What was it like playing for head coach Jim Boeheim, and what did it mean to you to win a gold medal? It was a great opportunity to play for a Hall of Fame coach, and some of my teammates had phenomenal careers. To compete for your country and win a gold was a great achievement.

You were a 1999 McDonald’s All-American, which of your teammates impressed you the most (Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer, Jonathan Bender, etc)? At that time it was probably Bender: he scored 31 points to set the scoring record in the McDonald’s Game.

You played for Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson at Arizona: what made Olson such a great coach, and what is the most important thing you ever learned from him? He has an amazing personality: I could talk with him about life both on and off the court. Family is very important to both him and me. He also taught me about preparation: there was not one game we played that we were not ready for.

In 2000 you were named national Freshman of the Year, how were you able to come in and be so successful so quickly? A lot of it had to do with the system we ran: it was geared toward the PG so the ball was in my hands quite a bit. I also had great guys around me who could make shots and get out in transition, which made my life easier.

In the 2001 NCAA tourney title game you scored seven points in a ten-point loss to Duke.  What was the reaction like in your locker room afterward? Disappointment: our dream was to win a national title, and once you get there and it does not happen you think back on all thing things you could or should have done. We just did not execute some things we needed to and had some unforced turnovers.

In the 2003 NCAA tourney you scored 22 points in 47 minutes in a one-point, two-overtime win over Gonzaga.  Where does that rank among the most exciting games of your career? It is definitely in the top five: I remember it like it was yesterday. They had a shot to win the game in a great atmosphere with a lot of energy. Nobody really lost that game: it could have gone either way.

You finished the year by being named an All-American and winning the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation’s most outstanding senior who is six feet or shorter.  What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors? You put in the work over the summer to put yourself in that situation, plus I had a great coaching staff and an unselfish team.

At the time you graduated you ranked second in college basketball history with 4,825 minutes played.  What was your secret for being able to survive the grind? I was a big-time competitor. I played against my brother and his friends growing up and always wanted to win. As a smaller guard you always want to prove yourself, and I loved to be on the court with the pressure on me. I hated to come out and Coach Olson trusted me from a young age to play a lot of minutes.

JonTeitel