MANTECA — Kiwi Gardner's immediate and long-term athletic future at Manteca High remains in doubt as the star guard awaits a ruling by the Sac-Joaquin Section as to whether his bump of a game official was meant to cause harm.
In Manteca's 68-57 loss to Inglewood on Dec. 28 in the Modesto Christian tournament, Gardner was called for a technical foul with 43.7 seconds left after questioning a foul call on a steal attempt. After the technical was whistled, he followed the official toward the scorer's table and brushed up against him.
At that point, a second technical was whistled and Gardner, a junior point guard, was disqualified.
Here's how Manteca coach David Asuncion saw the play: "There was a call made, and Kiwi said 'Stop bailing him out,' and the official asked Kiwi, 'Are you talking to me?'
Never miss a local story.
"Kiwi said 'Yes, ref,' and that's when the official turned and hit Kiwi with the technical.
"Kiwi kept walking toward the ref and he could have avoided him, and Kiwi brushed up against the back of the ref. The ref didn't like the contact and he ejects Kiwi. It was justified, the ejection. I still disagree with the first technical."
Gardner, who averages 27.4 points per game and is arguably the most talented player in the Stanislaus District, has been suspended from school, according to Asuncion, and will miss at least three games on the Buffaloes' schedule this week. He did not play Wednesday at Lathrop.
The school could impose a further sanction against Gardner, at which time the section office could determine the penalty is sufficient, or impose a lengthier sanction. The Section requested game film from Manteca, Inglewood and anyone else with a camera to help determine whether Gardner intended to cause harm when he made contact.
Intent to harm will be the key to the section's ruling. The applicable CIF bylaw states: "Any student who physically assaults the person of a game (referee or official) shall be banned from interscholastic athletics for the remainder of the student's eligibility."
After sitting out one game because of the disqualification, Gardner did not start the Dec. 30 game against Turlock. Upon entering the game, he made a celebratory reaction after blocking a shot and was hit with a technical foul by the same officiating crew that worked Manteca's game against Inglewood.
That quick technical begs the question: When and if Gardner does return, will his reputation cause him to be targeted by officials?
"I wouldn't say he's being targeted," Asuncion said. "But he's made the bed and he had to sleep in it. Kiwi did bring this upon himself, but he's really improved. As a freshman, he was way too much about talking and getting in the refs' faces, and he's pulled it back.
"But I think it does carry over. The officials are human and if someone yells at you you're going to get back at them."
A longtime section basketball official, who spoke only on terms of anonymity, said he's aware of players with reputations and makes an attempt to work with them during games to cut off such behavior.
"I don't look for things," the official said. "I approach each game individually. So, if I know a player has a problem, I also know that I'll have to say something to him every game. Once I say something and the player is fine, there's no trouble. If the player doesn't respond after we've talked, then I have to take action.
"I never take an issue from a game that happened last week into the next game."
But when Gardner picked up the quick technical foul in the Turlock game, it appeared to many in the gym as if it may have been caused by Gardner's reputation more than the action.
"You don't want to take away a kid's competitive edge, but he has to understand that he has this reputation and that the refs will be looking for these things," Asuncion said.
Bee Staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee. com or 578-2300.