Cardinal takes flight
Wait, before you start thinking that playoff depravation leads to insanity, it's not actually the guy who sweeps the court after games that Bay Area pro hoops fans have been whooping it up for.
No, it’s actually the guy who cleans the court so often during the game – with his jersey, with his court burned forearms and occasionally his scraped up chin. Meet Warriors forward Brian Cardinal, aka “The Custodian.”
For a team that has had more low lights that high lights lately, Cardinal, with his relentless hustle, penchant for diving for loose balls, his rugged rebounding and a deadly outside touch to boot, has become a big Warriors fan favorite. One fan even started a website – www.thecustodian.net – dedicated to all things related to the 6-8, 245 pound, 26-year-old Cardinal. The site pays homage with a detailed account of Cardinals season, including just about every article written and photo taken of the ball player. On top of that, the website sells t-shirts that take the classic San Francisco Warriors logo and reconfigures “The City” to read “The Custodian.”
“I’ve really been blown away from all the attention. The guy who started it does a fantastic job. I haven’t even met him yet. He just appreciates the way I play and that’s a great compliment. He’s making my family and friends back home Illinois think I’m a big star out here,” Cardinal says with a laugh. “The fans have been so unbelievably supportive of me, it’s something I’ll always cherish. To be a virtual unknown and come in here and see fans wearing Cardinal jerseys and say ‘You’re playing great Brian.’ It’s been surreal.”
After being anchored to the bench in three other NBA seasons, Cardinal – who picked up the nickname while at Purdue – has been on the court for the Warriors in 61 games – third best on the squad. He’s averaging 9.7 points and 4.5 rebounds. His highs are 32 points vs. Phoenix and 14 rebounds vs. Chicago.
Cardinal has never been known as a guy blessed with jaw dropping physical talents. He’s hung around basketball all his life – his dad is the former head training for the University of Illinois basketball team – and he knew early on that if his playing time was determined by how good he looked with his shirt off, he would have never gone out for the sport.
“I’m not the greatest of athletes. I’m not this enormous, strong guy out there. I’m a guy that needs to play hard at all times. I’m a guy that needs to knock down the open shot, get the loose ball and stay aggressive all the time,” he says.
Cardinal came to the Golden State organization this past fall as pretty much an afterthought free agent. He was initially viewed as a warm body who would spar in the paint with regulars Troy Murphy and Clifford Robinson in training camp and then go his merry way to Europe – where he played last season – or the minor leagues.
But Cardinal impressed in training camp, shooting the ball especially well in exhibition games. When final cut day came Cardinal edged out NBA journeyman forward George McCloud for one of the final roster spots. When starting power forward Troy Murphy was lost early in the season to a foot injury, Cardinal stepped into the coach Eric Musselman’s rotation.
Before long, people around the league were asking, 'who is this guy?'
“Brian Cardinal hasn’t opened up a few eyes,” said teammate Avery Johnson. “Brian Cardinal has opened up a lot of eyes and you can include my set in there. I knew he was a hustle guy, but I didn’t realize how good an offensive player he is, how effective he is from the three-point line and that he could create some real matchup problems for different big guys.”
Though Cardinal is getting regular minutes for the first time, he’s actually spent parts of three seasons in the NBA, playing in a total of 28 games with Detroit and Washington. Though he never got a full shot, Cardinal says he never became bitter.
“In Washington I had Kwame Brown in front of me. He was a No. 1 pick and they wanted to mold him into a great player. There was also Brendan Haywood and then there was some established veteran players like Christian Laettner and Charles Oakley,” Cardinal says. “But I knew if I had the opportunity I could help the team out. So it’s been nice to get that opportunity and develop as a player and at same time prove a lot of people wrong.”
The breaks started falling Cardinal’s way this season. But if the Warriors situation didn’t materialize, in the back of his mind Cardinal was starting to fear that 10 years from now he’d look back and say ‘what if?’
“It was like ‘am I ever going to play ball again?,'” the Purdue product says.
Now as the current season winds down, so does Cardinal’s one-year contract. For the first time in his career Cardinal will be the pursued and not the pursuer.
“Brian Cardinal should be in a good position to get a nice deal this summer,” says teammate Clifford Robinson.
For his part, Cardinal says Golden State is the place he wants to be.
“I love the Bay Area, San Francisco is the best. I love going over there and eating at the restaurants and having a great time,” Cardinal says. “I would love to come back and hopefully the opportunity is there to come back, because this has been very exciting.”
AJ Hayes is a San Francisco-based sports writer and a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com
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