HOUGHTON - Kerry Gardner radiates calm.
She doesn't seem calm. She doesn't act calm.
The Michigan Tech sophomore positively exudes cool, calm and collected with every move she makes on the basketball court.
Michigan Tech’s Kerry Gardner defends a Walsh player during their game earlier this month at the SDC?Gym. The Huskies host Wisconsin-Parkside today. (DMG photo by David Archambeau)
In a delightful paradox, she is so calm, it sometimes makes Husky coach Kim Cameron anxious.
"You always need a steady point guard and Kerry is calm when the rest of the world is fluttering. She doesn't show pressure, almost to the point where it makes me nervous," Cameron said. "Like, 'why aren't you nervous?'"
It is that steady confidence, that grounded reliability, that has allowed for Gardner to seize the starting point guard job in her sophomore season.
But first, let's step back a few years.
Gardner came to Michigan Tech out of high school as a first-team All-State selection out of Middleton, Wis. and twice named the Big 8 Conference Player of the Year, a mark of distinction in the Wisconsin hoops scene. She has been a star on the court since she could dribble a ball, always quicker, smoother and more skilled then her opponents.
Then she came to Houghton.
Her first year, she redshirted. Her second season, she played a total of 67 minutes in 17 games. She set her season high for scoring against Ohio Dominican on Dec. 13.
She scored three points.
"I have no idea how she did it," junior Jillian Ritchie, a recruit from the same class, said. "I missed two months with (an ankle injury) this year, and I hated it, ripped my hair out. She must have just been itching to get on the court, so she doesn't take it for granted. growing up as the star it must have been hard to take a break, but she is right back at it now."
By its very nature, redshirt years are hard on any college basketball player.
After being the center of attention for virtually his or her entire basketball life, a redshirt must get used to not only bigger and better players, but the idea that they are now a cog and not the whole machine. It is not like football where players redshirt almost solely to put on weight and adjust to the size of the game. In basketball, if you can play, you will play.
And all of this pressure comes without the joy of games to make it easier.
So it is with little surprise that Gardner admits that her first two seasons were difficult personally.
"I won't lie, it was a lot of work redshirting," Gardner said. "Sitting on the bench undressed is hard. Especially coming out of high school where I was playing a lot, sitting on the bench, it was definitely a challenge. Last season may have been even harder, getting dressed for games but not really playing much.
"It was definitely frustrating, but when I see where I have come since then, it is definitely worth it," Gardner finished. "It made me a lot stronger, physically and emotionally."
It comes back to that calm.
Through the difficulties and through the stress, Gardner kept right on working. She went head to head with All-American Sam Hoyt on most days in practice, shrugging off the defeats and learning from the mistakes.
With a bounty of minutes opening up this season with Hoyt and guard Emma Veach graduating, Gardner recognized the opportunity for minutes.
The Huskies needed a point guard this season. After riding the bench for two years, she wasn't letting it slip by.
"You really have to work for your time and your minutes, and I'll admit that I don't think I was ready to play when I came in," Gardner said.
"You really do have to work your way up, work your butt off every day in practice to earn what you are given. That is what motivated me last year, just knowing that someday my chance would come. And then this summer I really worked hard to get ready for this year."
It has paid off for Gardner and the Huskies almost immediately.
In the first game of the season, she came off the bench to chip in eight points and assist Kylie Moxley on the game-winning shot. Last Thursday, Gardner nailed a three-pointer with 23 seconds to play to put Tech up by four in an eventual win over Findlay.
Starting the past five games, Gardner is averaging 9.6 points per contest while knocking down 45 percent of her threes.
"I'm definitely impressed, but I'm not surprised," Ritchie said. "During practice last year she was always really steady and calm, you can see that leader ability she was born to be a point guard."
"She has done nothing but really impress us," Cameron added. "The more we challenge her the more she accepts it."
The most impressive statistic? Just 1.6 turnovers per game as the primary ball-handler, despite leading the team at 31.6 minutes a game.
It is exactly the kind of control this Tech team needs with a trio of versatile scorers in Kylie Moxley, Dani Blake and Mackenzie Perttu requiring the ball in different areas of the court.
Gardner provides it. Never too fast, rarely out of control. Calm, cool and collected.
"Kerry is just calm energy out on the court," Ritchie said. "She is wild, never crazy. She is very easy to rely on. She can get you that extra bucket, make that key pass. It helps us all."
"It's working," Cameron added.