From football to basketball: Meet SIU’s newest walk-on


(Anna Spoerre | @AnnaSpoerre)

SIU senior forward John Gardner jumps in the air after the Salukis score a basketball during SIU’s 82-77 win against Indiana State on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018, at SIU Arena.

By Ryan Demer, Sports Reporter

The Saluki men’s basketball team has been battered with injuries all season, with season-ending injuries occurring to several key players.

Senior forwards Thik Bol and Jonathan Wiley are both out for the season due to knee injuries, with Bol not even able to play a minute this season. Junior guard Eric McGill is also out for the season due to an injury in his left hand.

Because of the injuries, Saluki senior wide receiver John Gardner walked onto the SIU basketball team to provide more depth for head coach Barry Hinson.


Gardner’s first game as a member of the SIU bench against Northern Iowa marked the beginning of the Salukis’ current five-game win streak.

“As I transfer from football to basketball there were some things I had to work on,” Gardner said. “My footsteps when I go in the post needed to change.”

Gardner noted that he plays like a big man and uses his body and muscle to grab rebounds. He said that he joined the team to provide energy for the team and get the guys going.

Though Gardner hasn’t seen any action quite yet, Hinson said he would love nothing more than to be able to give him some time on the court, but noted that it is difficult to do so in a balanced Missouri Valley Conference.

“I love everything about him,” Hinson said. “He’s that static electricity that we need. He’s been nothing but positive and taken the leadership role he had in football and brought it here.”

Gardner is no stranger to the game of basketball. During his time in high school at Simeon Academy in Chicago, he was a member of the prolific Wolverine team led by former NBA lottery pick and Chicago basketball legend Jabari Parker.

During his freshman and sophomore years, Gardner played on the junior varsity teams. His third season was his first for Simeon’s varsity squad and the only team Gardner was on throughout Parker’s four-peat of state championships.


Gardner held out from his senior season of basketball and decided to focus on football.

Following the third championship, members of the Simeon basketball team infamously left their shoes on the court. Head coach Robert Smith suspended all underclassmen who partook in the action, including Gardner.

“It was our third time coming and winning the state championship,” Gardner said laughingly. “We were saying this is our court and our home, but they took it as bad sportsmanship and suspended us.”

As a young high school athlete, that situation does not reflect Gardner’s behavior. He shows no arrogance and is only willing to do what he can to help.

Now at SIU, Gardner looks to bring some of that basketball greatness from Chicago down to Carbondale. While joining the team in the middle of the season, Gardner has provided nothing but positive energy and has helped instill a winning mindset as Southern is now in the midst of a five-game win streak.

Sports writer Ryan Demer can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @RyanDemer_DE 

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