Houston East Carolina Basketball

East Carolina’s Jayden Gardner (1) battles under the basket with Houston’s Justin Gorham during the first half of their game in Minges Coliseum on Feb. 3.

Like many other people who reacted Monday to the Jayden Gardner transfer news, East Carolina basketball coach Joe Dooley said Tuesday he is planning for ECU’s offense next season to look different.

Gardner was one of six Pirates by Tuesday night who had announced they were entering the transfer portal, which is a widespread trend nationally amid the NCAA easing transfer restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gardner has been one of the best players in the American Athletic Conference since he joined ECU as a freshman for the 2018-19 season, totaling many of his points in the paint thanks to a smooth shooting touch and his energetic knack for going after rebounds and loose balls. He finished with 30 career double-doubles in a three-year Pirate career.

“We’re certainly disappointed,” Dooley said. “The train is already going down the track. It’s like free agency and I understand that the guys want to do what’s in the best interest of their career. They have the choice to do it and the NCAA has allowed and we can’t stop it. It’s going to keep happening.”

Gardner reportedly was offered by N.C. State hours after his tweet announcing his intent to transfer Monday, and he could end up being a fit as a versatile 6-foot-7 forward in the Atlantic Coast Conference or Southeastern Conference.

Players are expected to be allowed a one-time waiver to transfer without sitting out a season, regardless if they are a graduate transfer or not. Gardner was a junior for the 2020-21 campaign.

ECU was expecting to lose some players, but hoping not Gardner. Other Pirates who have entered the transfer portal include backup guard Noah Farrakhan, who was a freshman, and sophomore center Charles Coleman, a pair of players who were heavily recruited before signing with ECU.

Gardner, a Wake Forest native, was the only Pirate this year to average in double-figure scoring at 18.3 points per game. Second was J.J. Miles, a senior who averaged 9.8 for the Pirates, who finished 8-11 overall and 2-10 in the American.

“We have to shoot it better from the perimeter,” Dooley said. “That was a big need, and hopefully with a couple guys we sign that can be addressed.”

One of ECU’s commits is Boston College transfer Wynston Tabbs, who averaged 13.3 points per game for BC this season before he entered the transfer portal. He made 4-of-6 3-pointers against N.C. State in December.

The Pirates also will continue to look at the transfer portal for immediate help in addition to Tabbs and more than a handful of players they are aiming to sign to be freshmen for next season.

“Once we get all the pieces together, then we’ll start working and see what fits with what we have,” Dooley said of shifting the offense away from Gardner. “When we get them all here and get them up and down a little bit, I do think this summer we’ll end up doing more team stuff than we had previously, for a couple different reasons. ... We’ll try to run some stuff and see what we can do a little bit earlier this year, once we get these guys going.”

Gardner’s best season was 2019-20, when he led the American in scoring at 19.7 points per game and also had a rebounding average of 9.2.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.