Not too long ago, back when he was in charge of recruiting efforts in Ann Arbor, John Beilein had thrown the University of Michigan’s name in a hat full of schools intrigued by Darius Garland.
“Made a few phone calls because we know of his dad, obviously,” Beilein said at Cleveland Cavaliers’ introductory rookie press conference.
The son of Winston Garland, an NBA guard from 1987-95 out of Missouri State, Darius drew plenty of attention as a five-star recruit at Brentwood Academy in Nashville, including some from the Wolverines. That would be about as far as a connection would go, though, as the upstart point guard elected to stay close to home and play for Bryce Drew at Vanderbilt University.
Beilein never had the opportunity to take him under his wing during college, but he’s no longer there, nor is Garland. Instead, years later, both find themselves in Cleveland as first-timers in the NBA.
“He had such great recommendations from everybody we saw and I think maybe we got a commitment early and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but we would have loved to coach him. Now I get to do that.”
Hearing is one thing. Seeing is another.
Up close and personal, a contingent of Cavaliers personnel—Beilein, his whole coaching staff and general manager Koby Altman—flew out to Los Angeles to see Garland in a private workout ahead of draft week. Everybody that made the trip was sold almost instantly.
“He was shooting from back in Nashville and we were in California,” Beilein quipped.
The No. 5 overall pick buried nearly every shot he took. It didn’t matter where Garland was pulling up from. Mid-range, a normal three-ball, way behind the arc—everything was falling from the jump.
“We’d seen him take 30-footers and flick ‘em like it was nothing,” Altman said.
“That really meant a lot to me when the whole staff come out that they were really interested,” Garland recalled. “I knew I had to kind of put on a show for them. But there was no pressure at all. Shooting range, I was pretty deep out, I think, in my opinion.”
The Cavaliers lacked reliable, consistent three-point shooting last year, so it’s clear as to why Garland’s display rocked their world. It also only served as backup to what they had already known after watching his high school tapes—the NIKE EYBL, Hoop Summit, McDonald’s All-American Game and four straight state championships at Brentwood Academy.
Forget about a four-game sample size at Vanderbilt with his freshman year abruptly cut short—Garland was as talented of a prospect as they come.
“Had he played a full season, he wouldn’t have been there [at five],” a league source told Basketball Insiders. “Since seventh grade, he’s been legit.”
Garland’s game will remind people of a Kyrie Irving-Damian Lillard hybrid, the source said, citing that the 19-year-old not only has good vision and handle with the ball, but has a specialty at coming off screens and positioning himself to make shots.
That’s why it was a no-brainer for the Cavaliers to draft him. Aside from salivating at the thought of Garland’s potential, it’s what the team can create in its backcourt between the dynamic guard and Collin Sexton that really piques the interest.
Third on the team in attempts, Sexton was the wine-and-gold’s most efficient player from deep with a 40.2 percent clip. His shot selection improved tremendously as the season went on, as did his decision-making. Perhaps the key to all this—he spent a great deal of time off the ball.
Cleveland’s brass and coaching staff predict a dual-guard system with Garland and Sexton could be similar to that of Lillard and CJ McCollum with the Portland Trail Blazers. When Altman informed Young Bull of the Cavaliers’ draft plans, he immediately started studying film of the duo’s games.
Beilein already envisions the way the team will run its offense—two guards on the elbows, two wings in the corners and one big man in the middle. At Michigan, he set up the one-two punch with pairings such as Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, or Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton. There’s “freedom” with a spaced out floor, and he sees loads of potential with Sexton and Garland following suit.
“You just look what Portland has done with those two terrific guards and I don’t think it’s going to take very long at all,” Beilein said. “The two of them are going to be beautiful together and make me a much better coach than I am.”
“I’m really excited,” Garland said. “Collin, he’s really good. I think I can help him and I think we can both combine and do some crazy things in Cleveland.”
Outside of playing against him in USA Basketball, Garland isn’t too familiar personally with Sexton, but he’s eager to build a connection with the second-year guard. The former Commodore also has a close relationship with Tristan Thompson, who’s been a lifetime Cavalier.
Garland is one of three first-round picks the organization brought in. Belmont’s Dylan Windler from down the road next to Vanderbilt and USC’s Kevin Porter Jr., a player that was projected to be a lottery pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season, are the others.
The trio of rookies is listed on Cleveland’s Summer League roster in Utah, although the playing status of Garland and Porter is up in the air. The two won’t be suiting up for Monday’s game – it’s unlikely they’ll see any time at at in Salt Lake City per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com – but they have been getting up to speed with Beilein’s methods by observing three days worth of practices.
Since the Cavaliers have decided to hold Garland out, for now, there couldn’t be a more perfect time for him to show the leadership quality he believes is “a hidden” trait.
What’s not hidden is Cleveland’s infatuation with an upward-trending direction.
The progression of Sexton was just the beginning.
Garland is next in line.
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