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The Show: Gardner, Williams well worth price of admission
Kiwi Gardner (32) and Christian Williams are heated rivals on the court, and good friends off of it. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Thursday afternoon after shooting a round of golf in Escalon, I asked a friend what his plans were for Friday night.

“Manteca, Sierra,” He answered.

“Really?” I asked, a bit surprised.

“Of course,” he responded. “Kiwi and Christian, man. That’s the show.”

“The Show” started Friday night at Sierra High during pre-game warmups with the T’Wolves band treating a packed audience on-hand to Ringo Starr’s “Hey Baby.”

That’s when I first noticed Gardner dancing to the tune in between jumpshots.

Clearly, Gardner was loose, ready for a primetime game in a primetime atmosphere.

My focus drifted to Sierra’s end but was quickly interrupted by my golfing buddy, who tapped me and told me to check out Gardner along the sideline.

“He’s shooting from out of bounds,” he said, clearly impressed.

Sure enough, Gardner was a good five feet into the sideline, standing next to Sierra’s water cooler shooting 3-pointers.

Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish. Swish.

Five straight. Each one cracking home without a taste of rim.

If I’d paid to get into the building, I could have already walked away satisfied that I had gotten my money’s worth.

Then the game started.

Gardner was unstoppable during the first eight minutes, personally outscoring Sierra 16-12 in the quarter while being guarded by 6-foot, 5-inch Serge Veretennikov.

He started the frame with a pull-up trey at the top of the key.


He ended it with another triple at the buzzer.


In between, he treated the crowd to a plethora of moves all his own, be it a twisting jump-stop runner through the lane, or an eye-popping drive through both Williams and Veretennikov on the back end of a steal.

By halftime, Gardner had scored 25 points, still outpacing Sierra’s entire team by three.

You’d think Gardner’s production was the result of selfish play, but the reality is, nothing could be further from the truth.

Gardner’s points came within the flow of his offense, and afterward the fleet-footed southpaw was quick to point toward his teammates as the reason Manteca was able to pick up the win.

“It’s never about anything personal, it’s a team game,” Gardner said. “Both teams are out here trying to accomplish the same goals.

“Anytime you come into Sierra and win, it’s a big win. It’s a hard place to win at, always.”

Then Gardner was asked to talk about Williams’ game.

“Talk about Christian? Unstoppable. Unstoppable. What can you say?” he asked. “It’s nothing, he’s unstoppable. It’s always fun to play against him, it’s better to play with him though.”

Williams and Gardner are close friends, especially during the summer when they spend many hours on the court together.

“We practice together all the time, we’re always with each other, we know each other’s moves,” Williams said. “We’re very competitive in everything we do, this one just didn’t work for me this time.”

While the first half was all Gardner all the time, the final 16 minutes belonged to Williams.

Sierra’s point guard was unbelievable, especially in the fourth, when he hit four straight 3-pointers at one point with defenders draped all over him.

No play better typified Williams skills, however, then when he found himself streaking toward the hoop with three minutes remaining in the fourth.

Dominique Barnes had set his feet in perfect defensive position to draw a charge, and with Williams driving hard, that outcome appeared inevitable.

But Williams stopped on a dime just before contact, raised and banked a floater home, never once drawing contact from the 6-4 Barnes.

Williams and Gardner spent limited minutes guarding each other, but both came away with a few bragging rights.

During a Sierra baseline inbounds pass under the rim, Williams was chatting up Gardner and made his friend laugh a split second before curling around the top of the key to the left corner.

Gardner gave chase, but Williams received the inbounds on the fly and drained a 3-pointer over Gardner’s fingertips.

Moments later, Gardner pick-pocketed Williams at the top of the key, stormed to the other end and went up for a dunk attempt.

Although the slam didn’t fall, and Gardner was whistled for a technical after hanging on the rim, Manteca’s point guard swaggered back to the Manteca bench with a huge smile.

After having scored 36 points, and leading his team to a huge win over Sierra, he had no reason not to.

Williams finished with 37, but there were no smiles in the T’Wolves’ locker room afterward.

“It’s a tough loss, but we can’t hang our head,” Williams said. “We have to regroup, we got East Union and Weston Ranch and that’s going to be another tough game for us, so we just have to keep our head up and get back to work.

“We’re still going to have Manteca at their gym, so that’s going to be a little revenge.”

The Show: Part II.

I can’t wait.