By the time Aaron Gordon was 10 years old, he and his siblings already had wrecked so many portable basketball hoops in the backyard that his next birthday gift was a no-brainer.
So Ed Gordon and Shelly Davis bought a permanent basketball goal, let their son unwrap the apparatus during an evening celebration, and told Aaron they would dig the hole and pour cement around it in the morning.
That wasn't good enough.
Bedtime or not.
"It was like midnight and we heard this 'Chink, chink, chink,' " said Shelly, Gordon's mother. "He was out there in the middle of the night trying to dig the hole."
It was alarming, at first, but really not all that surprising for Shelly and Ed. They had long known what kind of kids they had: Drew, a forward who plays professionally in Italy; Elise, a center at Harvard; and Aaron, the ever-focused 17-year-old who has become the Arizona Wildcats' top-rated incoming freshman for next season.
Tim Kennedy saw it early with Aaron, too. Kennedy was hired as head coach at San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty High School just after Drew took the school to a state title game in 2008, and a year later held a memorable conversation with Aaron, then an incoming freshman.
"He came into our first meeting and let me know where he wanted to go," Kennedy said. "He wanted to be the best basketball player out there and was willing to do whatever it took to win.
"It was unusual because of the confidence he had, and he was so mature and eloquent with it. Some guys would say that but they're just talking sideways. With him, you knew it was from the heart. He wasn't just saying what you want to hear."
Over the next four years, Gordon led Mitty to two state division titles and a runner-up finish in California's new open division this season. Then, a day after announcing he would play college basketball at Arizona earlier this month, Gordon became the MVP of the McDonald's All American Game.
He did that despite being the youngest player in the McDonald's Game. Gordon was born in September 1995, making him just 17 1/2 as a departing high school senior, the result of a difficult decision Shelly and Ed had to make almost 13 years ago.
Back then, California parents of September babies had a choice of whether to enroll their children in kindergarten at age 4 or 5, and, well, Shelly couldn't ignore what she had on her hands.
"I just couldn't keep him out until he turned 5 because he was just so much bigger than the other kids," Shelly said. "He also was such a bright, talkative kid. I thought, 'What am I going to do with him for another year?' "
Their decision was the opposite of conventional thinking, that staying behind a year and being the oldest in a class can create an athletic advantage.
With Aaron, that didn't matter. He strove to be the best, anyway, even at home, where his brother was five years older and his sister had three years on him.
"When he was little and competing against his older siblings, anything he did he expected to win, even in Uno or checkers - and he wouldn't stop until he did," Ed Gordon said. "He expected to be able to figure out some way to get a win."
Naturally, that determination was most obvious on that backyard court, where the siblings, Ed, and other invitees routinely played some cutthroat basketball games.
"It was always extremely competitive," Ed said. "Maybe sometimes more competitive than it should have been. We always kept it under control and once the game was over, we'd go inside and be a family again, but sometimes I had to end the game because it was too competitive."
It's no wonder considering where all of them went in the game.
Drew was once a UA recruiting target who played at UCLA and New Mexico before beginning a professional career that is now in Italy.
Elise led Mitty's girls team to a state title before she left in 2010 to play at Harvard, where she will be entering her senior year this fall.
Then there's Ed, who played college basketball at San Diego State, made a San Diego Clippers summer team, spent a year in pro ball in Mexico and was so athletic that the New England Patriots invited him to camp in 1983 - even though Ed had never played football and soon found out that he didn't want to anyway.
"It wasn't my passion," he said.
Basketball was, and still is. Ed, a former salesman who became a middle-school teacher, tore his Achilles' tendon about a decade ago and suffered a knee injury last year on that backyard court. He still plans to return to the court even as his wife wonders.
"His days of backyard basketball are probably over," Shelly said.
Shelly, too, was an athlete in high school, playing basketball and tennis. But she focused on computers while attending UCLA and San Diego State in the 1980s, then later earned an MBA and is now a technical-services manager for Altera in San Jose.
Ed and Shelly say they never forced their kids into any particular sport, though basketball always won out. Aaron and Drew even played ice hockey, Drew being so good that he considered an East Coast hockey academy before he grew too tall and suffered concussions.
Aaron played hockey, was a running back in football and also competed in track before one Pop Warner football game changed everything.
"I got hit, went down and tried to pull myself up, but broke my elbow," Aaron said. "After that it was noncontact sports."
It wasn't that Aaron didn't want to play football anymore.
It was that he realized nothing could interfere with his real passion.
"That was it," Shelly said of the broken elbow. "He said 'I'd rather play basketball and I don't want to jeopardize that.' "
That was in sixth grade. By ninth grade, Gordon had that tone-setting conversation with Kennedy before starting at Mitty and by 10th grade he began playing in USA Basketball events.
There, Mike Jones, the coach at Maryland powerhouse DeMatha High and a five-time USA aide, noticed that same driven focus in Gordon.
Jones helped coach Gordon and USA's U16 team in 2011, and was hardly surprised when Gordon showed up two years later for last week's Nike Hoop Summit as one of the top five players in the high school class of 2013.
"He's quietly confident with a drive in him that not many people can match," said Jones, the USA Junior Select team head coach at the Hoop Summit. "He's improved so much and that's because of his work ethic.
"When you're motivated and your aspirations are so high, you want to play as well as you can anytime that you step out. He really takes the mentality of, 'Somebody may be watching me for the first time and I want that impression to be so high.' "
Maybe that explains why Gordon complained that he was a "step slow" while committing nine turnovers in the California state title game in March, and was "terrible" with three-pointers on 1-for-6 shooting in the Jordan Brand Classic on April 13, despite his much-celebrated McDonald's Game success on April 3.
At the Hoop Summit, Gordon scored nine points before NBA scouts and an ESPN2 audience. It wasn't perfect, but unlike the all-star games it had a more serious purpose and some intense pregame practices, and was played at the home of the NBA's Trail Blazers.
For Aaron Gordon, that was more like it.
"It was fun being able to shoot in the gym and be on an NBA floor," Gordon said. "I just like the fact that I got better."
AAron Gordon's big April
• April 2: Gordon verbally commits to the Arizona Wildcats while in Chicago for the McDonald's All American Game. The San Jose, Calif., product had his choice of schools; UA, Kentucky, Washington and Oregon were his finalists.
• April 3: Gordon scores 24 points, grabs eight rebounds and is named MVP of the McDonald's game.
• April 17: Gordon signs his national letter of intent with the UA, making his commitment official. Wildcats coach Sean Miller calls Gordon "the ultimate winner."
• April 20: Gordon plays in the Nike Hoop Summit game in Portland, Ore., scoring nine points. His USA Junior Select team loses to a team of 19-and-under international stars.
Contact Bruce Pascoe at 573-4145 or bpascoe@azstarnet. On Twitter @BrucePascoe