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How Cavs All-Star Darius Garland found his way in the NBA

Cavs point guard Darius Garland
Cleveland Cavaliers
Cavs point guard Darius Garland, 22, is an NBA All-Star in his third year in the league.

Darius Garland will represent the team at this weekend’s NBA All-Star game in Cleveland. He's been one of the breakout stars of the Cavaliers’ surprising season.

Sports commentator Terry Pluto says the selection marks a turning point in Garland's young pro career that got off to a rocky start.

Just 5 college games
Garland is the son of former NBA player Winston Garland and grew up in the area of Nashville, Tenn. He won four state championships with his high school basketball team at Brentwood Academy and was a three-time Tennessee Mr. Basketball.

Pluto said that while Garland had the choice to play basketball anywhere he wanted, the family wanted to stay in the Nashville area. So, he picked Vanderbilt.

Then, just five games into his college career in 2019, Garland injured his knee during a game against Kent State.

"That’s the end of his college career," Pluto said.

The 5th pick and a rough rookie season
So, Garland entered the 2019 draft, and the Cavs front office was invited to watch Garland work out in L.A.

“He was making shots not just from L.A., but from Santa Monica, from San Francisco — just showing this incredible shooting range," Pluto joked.

The Cavs selected Garland with the 5th pick in the draft, and he was named a starter for the upcoming rebuilding season.

That summer before the start of the season, Pluto said Garland's knee started acting up, and he had to have a "clean up" procedure.

"It's not LeBron coming back, and it's not a team trading for some big star. This is a homegrown team, and Garland is the key."
Terry Pluto

Then, Garland's rookie season didn't go well.

“He looked clunky to me, and kind of slow. You could see he had a nice-looking shot, but he didn’t seem to know where to get it," Pluto said.

Garland averaged about 12 points per game his rookie season.

“He was like a gigantic bust-out. It was a big warning sign that if this guy could turn around become a rotation player off the bench, that would be progress,” Pluto said.

Garland's progress was also stalled by the pandemic, which brought the season to a halt in March of 2020. The Cavs were left out of the NBA's restart in the bubble in Orlando.

"A legitimate NBA starter"
Pluto said Garland put in a lot of work to get ready for his second season. "That summer he got stronger, and the knee got better," Pluto said.

Though the Cavs won just 22 games in 2020-21, Garland averaged 17 points a game. At that point, Pluto said Garland became a "legitimate NBA starter."

Comparisons to Mark Price
Pluto likens Garland to former Cavs All-Star point guard Mark Price.

"[Price] struggled as a rookie when he was drafted in 1986 and worried about his future in the league. His second year, he came around and played better, and then became an All-Star in his third year in 1989," Pluto said.

The difference, however, is that Price was a rookie age 22, while Garland is 22 and already in his third season. It's a newer trend in the NBA to draft players right after their freshman year of college.

Pluto says it's fun to watch the players and fans rally around Garland, who has an upbeat, fun presence on the court.

"It's a great time to celebrate a franchise rising up, and it isn't a shortcut. It's not LeBron coming back, and it's not a team trading for some big star. This is a homegrown team, and Garland is the key," Pluto said.

The Cavs will also have center Jarrett Allen in the All-Star game. Rookie Evan Mobley will play the Rising Stars game on Saturday.

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Amanda Rabinowitz has been a reporter, host and producer at WKSU since 2007. After serving as WKSU's Morning Edition host for a dozen years, she moved to afternoons in March of 2022 to become the local host of All Things Considered. In addition to providing local news and weather, she interviews Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com for a weekly commentary about Northeast Ohio's sports scene called The View From Pluto. She also hosts and produces Shuffle, a podcast focusing on Northeast Ohio’s music scene.