Aaron Gordon will make his public debut for the Arizona Wildcats next weekend.
But, c’mon, does he really need an introduction?
He’s the guy who won two California Mr. Basketball awards. Became MVP of the 2012 Elite 24 game, the MVP of the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game and, while playing for USA Basketball last summer, was the MVP of the U19 world championships.
Even though he was only 17 at the time.
“The thing I love about Aaron is the reason everybody in the world talks about him … it’s because of what he’s earned, not because of what he’s supposed to be,” UA coach Sean Miller says. “He’s earned the right for people to talk about him.”
And they are. A lot.
“Gordon arrives with as much hype, or more, as any of Lute Olson’s Wildcats,” wrote Lindy’s college basketball annual, “and he’s a clear Pac-12 player of the year candidate for the projected conference champ.”
While naming him a second-team All-American, the Sporting News went so far as to compare Gordon favorably to a similarly built forward who became the No. 1 NBA draft pick in 2009 after two years of college.
“The Blake Griffin comparisons are fun,” Sporting News wrote, “but Gordon is a much better all-around player now than Griffin was as a freshman at Oklahoma.”
Then there’s the simple way that Athlon Sports put it in its preseason yearbook.
“Freshman Aaron Gordon is a stud,” Athlon wrote.
That’s just about this season, too. Gordon is listed at No. 4 on Draft Express’ mock NBA draft for 2014, and a Philadelphia 76ers fan website has already posted a thread entitled: “The Case for Tanking: Aaron Gordon,” implying the Sixers might want to lose a few games so they can get the talented forward next season.
Is it all too much? Arizona almost always brings in freshmen showered with hype, but it doesn’t always work out as planned. After all, it was only two years ago that the Wildcats brought in five-star point guard Josiah Turner, who was suspended twice as a freshman, left the team the next spring, was arrested on suspicion of extreme DUI and was last seen playing ball on the shores of Prince Edward Island.
Evidence strongly suggests Gordon won’t be that kind of guy.
For one thing, Gordon says he’s hardly fazed by all the expectations.
“People have been expecting things from me all my life,” Gordon said. “I’m here and I’m going to play as hard as I can. Just be myself and other coaches have trust in me, players have trust. I’m just gonna play as hard as I can.”
Teammate Nick Johnson says Gordon is “a great athlete and a harder worker,” and Miller has repeatedly praised his work ethic and maturity as much as his talent.
“Aaron just turned 18 years old and the greatest compliment I can pay him is he acts like he’s 22 years old in terms of the maturity that he has,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a coach, a manager or an older teammate, if you talk to him, he’s engaging, he listens, he wants to learn, to be better. He knows he has things that he can work on. His approach has been drop-dead professional, that’s how I would put it.”
There’s more. Miller won’t easily stop talking about this subject.
“He’s a pleasure to have in our program,” Miller said. “He has no prima donna in him. He shows up, he works hard, he listens and you have a sense that he’s here to accomplish things and part of what he’s here to accomplish is to win.
“So his attitude is refreshing and it’s contagious. It’s easy to be his teammate because his gift as a player is that he does so many things well.”