AuburnSports - How Dylan Cardwell's senior year exemplified his character
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How Dylan Cardwell's senior year exemplified his character

Tons of college head coaches rave year after year about the type of kids they sign, and how those prospects' upstanding personalities will fit into their new program.

In the case of newly minted Auburn basketball signee Dylan Cardwell, Bruce Pearl can point to specific turn of events to back up his assertion that Cardwell's "work ethic, character, love of family and the desire to be at Auburn will really fit into our locker room and our culture," as the Tigers head coach said when Auburn signed the big man last week.

Cardwell, a 4-star, 6-foot-10 center with eye-popping athleticism and ball-handling skills for his size, technically hails from Powder Springs, Ga., on the Tigers' roster, but he never played a single minute on the hardwood for McEachern High School.

Dylan Cardwell (23) was supposed to play his final year of high school basketball at McEachern.
Dylan Cardwell (23) was supposed to play his final year of high school basketball at McEachern. (Jon Lopez / Nike EYBL)

After he spent last summer near Atlanta, playing on Team AOT on the Nike EYBL circuit with future Auburn teammates Sharife Cooper and Devan Cambridge, he and his family decided to move Cardwell back to Georgia from Virginia to play basketball in the fall at McEachern.

Cardwell had previously played at Evans High School in Augusta, Ga., and Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, a perennial basketball factory. Through three years of high school ball, he had already made his mark on the recruiting world as a skilled and powerful big man, and began to earn offers from across the country.

Little did Cardwell know at the time, his final game at Oak Hill his junior year would be his last as a standard high school basketball player.

"When he came in, we go through a process of turning things in to our state organization," McEachern head coach Mike Thompson said. "They either yay or nay a kid on his eligibility, and they ruled him ineligible. We went through an appeals process, and they ruled him ineligible again, based on the second time we went in there. He and his mom went through a process of taking the situation to court because they were not very happy with the findings with the results of dealing with the [Georgia High School Association]."

The Cardwell family's appeals process stretched well into McEachern's fall 2019 season, and the center was missing valuable playing time.

Thompson can't pinpoint exactly why the GHSA didn't rule in Cardwell's favor. As the situation grew more frustrating with no solution in sight, Cardwell was given chance after chance to leave Thompson's program and play elsewhere in an attempt to show his stuff for colleges one last time. Even Oak Hill, which was "part of the reason he was declared ineligible," called Cardwell and offered him his spot back.

But he never budged. He had made a commitment to his new team, even if that had to take other forms besides playing basketball.

"He was the ultimate teammate," Thompson said. "He's that guy everyone wants to play with."

Soon after Cardwell decided to stay put, word of the big-time recruit's situation spread — and with that, the highlights and videos taken at McEachern's games started to include him. Cardwell started to go viral for his celebrations of his new teammates.

"In our locker room prior to games, after games, there were many times [Cardwell] stood up and talked," Thompson said. "He was a guy that had the respect of his teammates even though he didn’t play in a game. That says a lot about his character and, for those kids, his work ethic in practice and, you know, the way he approached practice."

Despite the suboptimal scenario for Cardwell, Thompson said it might have actually diversified his skill set not being able to play on game days. Since the elite prospect wasn't rolling with the starting five normally, it didn't make sense for him to practice as a starter, so he was always working with the scout team.

As a result, Thompson essentially let Cardwell do whatever he wanted to make life hard on the starters in a practice setting and prepare them for their next opponent.

And never once did Cardwell complain about having to working with the end-of-bench players. He again made the most of it.

"He took on that role," Thompson said. "I also think it helped his game. ... He handled the ball a lot, he shot the ball a lot from outside."

With Pearl's bunch next season, Cardwell will get to spread his wings and make an impact on the court as a true freshman center in a lineup that needed frontcourt depth. But Thompson knows his former player's reputation at the next level will again stem from his character in the locker room and as a member of the Auburn community.

"He’s just a class act in every sense of the word," Thompson said, "so it really made me happy to see him get to a spot like he did (with Auburn)."

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