Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland has a valuable resource in his NBA father — Andscape
CLEVELAND — Before becoming a lottery pick, an All-Star and a first-time participant in this year’s NBA playoffs, little Darius Garland routinely waited patiently for his hero to arrive home after a day’s work.
“When I was about 3 or 4, I had a Little Tikes basketball hoop,” said Garland, point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers. “I’d be at the door waiting for him wearing a basketball uniform and a headband.”
And for 30 or so minutes, five days a week, father and son would engage in basketball bliss.
“He’d sit on the floor, throw lobs at the goal and I’d shoot fadeaways and fall like Kobe,” Garland said. “I always looked forward to seeing my dad. Those memories will always stick with me.”
Those early years of quality time between Garland and his father Winston set the foundation that led to Garland’s ascension to the NBA. The Cavaliers are in the postseason for the first time in five years, tied 1-1 in their first-round series against the New York Knicks.
Garland, who led the Cavaliers with 32 points in a 107-90 win in Game 2 on Tuesday, benefited from hours on the court and from being the son of a former NBA player.
“He was a sponge growing up,” said Winston Garland, who played seven years in the NBA. “He hung onto every word about playing the [point guard] position.”
Those words remain with his son.
“I was able to learn about the fundamentals quicker,” Garland said. “I learned all of the little things at a younger age compared to other kids. He taught me at a young age to change gears on the court. A lot of players play at one speed by going 100 mph all the time. A change of pace keeps defenders off-balance. I still [change gears] to this day thanks to my dad.”
Gear-shifting and basketball fundamentals were often on display during Garland’s formative years on a basketball court inside the Embassies of Christ church in Gary, Indiana. Garland did more than just hold his own against much older kids.
“At 10, he’d play against 15- and 16-year-olds,” said Tim Baker, who ran the gym. “The older kids would complain and wonder [why this little kid] was out there.”
The teenagers quickly found out.
“Darius would run the point, get his shot off and break those kids down because his IQ was so high,” Baker said. “You know all of those crazy crossovers that kids do, Darius wasn’t doing that. He’d move without the ball and set screens. When shots went up, he’d box out. It was fundamental basketball at its finest.”
Once games ended, and while the other kids were trying to dunk at the other basket, Garland would shoot 100 free throws and take shots from different spots on the floor.
“You could tell Darius had been trained by somebody who knew the game at the highest level,” Baker said.
He learned from Winston Garland, a second-round pick in the 1987 NBA draft. The 6-foot-2 guard played with five teams over seven seasons, averaging 9.4 points and 4.7 assists. His second season was his best, when he averaged 14.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals for a Golden State Warriors team that included Hall of Famers Chris Mullin and Mitch Richmond. He also played one season in Italy.
In his senior year at Missouri State, Winston Garland averaged 21.2 points and led the team to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Garland had attended Roosevelt, the same high school as legend Dick Barnett and former NBA player Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson. As a junior, Garland was on Roosevelt’s state runner-up team. As a senior, he was honorable mention All-State.
“Winston didn’t have great athleticism, but he had an IQ off the Richter scale,” said Baker, who also played for Roosevelt. “Winston was 5-7 as a sophomore, so it was his skills that got him on varsity, not his size. It was that knowledge that he taught Darius.”
Garland is the youngest of four children (sister Kacie, and brothers Desmond and Cody) of his dad and mother Felicia. The philosophy remained the same for all the children when it came to not specializing in one sport at an early age. He also played baseball.
“The summer of his eighth grade year, he said he wanted to focus only on basketball,” Winston Garland said. “I was a little hesitant because I believe kids should do as much as they can without concentrating on one sport. But he was hell-bent on focusing on basketball.”
But dad needed more reassurance. He knew his son liked basketball, but he wanted to see a true love of the sport. He started to see the change.
“He took the initiative to schedule his own workouts,” Winston Garland said. “He started really dialing in on the court, and he was sticking his nose in his books. My wife and I could see he was superserious, and it pushed me and her to help him achieve his dream.”
Winston Garland developed a plan to help his son achieve his goal of playing in the NBA. Tough decisions were made. The family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2012, the summer before Garland’s eighth grade year.
It was a familiar city as a result of his son playing AAU there during the summers because Winston Garland had a relationship with the coach. The move was made in part because of the family’s belief it would grant their son more exposure to college recruiters compared with Gary. A new city would also help him escape the burden of being the son of a city legend.
“This is where the son of an NBA dad came into play,” Winston Garland said. “Everyone in the region knew me. It was either going to be the hate play or [coaches] weren’t going to nurture him because they didn’t see what I saw. And we also moved because Gary changed. It wasn’t the Gary I grew up in.”
Garland was enrolled in Brentwood Academy, a college preparatory high school that also excelled in sports. His father joined the basketball staff as an assistant coach. Garland’s basketball growth and dedication continued.
“When he started driving his junior year, he’d get up at 5 in the morning and go to school to put up shots before class,” Winston Garland said. “It was cool to see the drive and ambition. He was really dialed in.”
Garland won three consecutive Tennessee Mr. Basketball awards and led Brentwood to four consecutive state titles. He averaged 27.6 points his senior year, and he became a McDonald’s All American.
Garland signed with nearby Vanderbilt University. His college career started strong with 24 points and four assists in his debut, but in the fifth game of the season he suffered a meniscus injury to his left knee. It proved to be his last collegiate game.
A week after surgery, Garland developed an infection that resulted in a second surgery. Two months later, more complications required a third surgery. Garland had already announced his intentions to turn pro, but that final surgery created doubt.
“He was much stronger than I was,” Winston Garland said. “I was a mess. I broke down, but Darius was so reassuring to us that he was going to be OK. He’d say, ‘Dad, it’s just a meniscus.’ . . . that’s my guy.”
Still only a teenager, Garland experienced the most challenging time in his basketball career. Despite doubt often seeping in, he continued to rehab and heal. That time left a lasting impression.
“That was a tough time, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Garland said. “Continuously going back to that surgery room and getting on that table hurt mentally. I had thoughts I’d never play again. A setback like that, not knowing if you’re ever going to do something you love, really hurts. Being able to play again means so much.”
To the delight of Garland and his family, he was the No. 5 pick in the draft by the Cavaliers in 2019. He averaged 12.3 points his rookie season and 17.4 points the following year. He was selected as an All-Star reserve last season, and this year became the first player in Cavaliers history to average 20 points, seven assists and shoot 40% from 3-point range in the same season.
Garland, who was joined in the backcourt this season by four-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, helped lead the Cavaliers to the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed and their only playoff appearance without LeBron James in the last 25 years.
Despite Garland’s previous success, he’s aware elite players are made in the postseason. And he’ll use his valuable resource to help him get there.
“My dad told me how the physicality and intensity will increase in the playoffs, to be ready mentally, stay focused and play my game,” Garland said. “Many people don’t have a dad in their lives. I can talk to my dad on the phone, I can see him, give him a hug, and I’m good until I see him again.”