BEAVERTON, Ore. – Mike Jones has been coaching Aaron Gordon for USA Basketball events over the past three years, so when he met up with the Arizona Wildcats signee on Thursday he was not surprised by the greeting.
“The first thing when I saw him yesterday I said, `Hey, how you been?’ and his response was, `Just getting better,’ “ said Jones, the DeMatha High School coach who will head up the USA Select team in Saturday’s Nike Hoop Classic at the Rose Garden (4 p.m., ESPN2).
It’s that kind of friendly but no-nonsense approach that has helped make Gordon a Top 5 player in the class of 2013, Jones said.
“He’s quietly confident with a drive in him that not many people can match,” Jones said. “He’s been compared to a lot of people over the course of his years but he is unique and he’s his own player. He’s improved so much and that’s because of his work ethic.”
While Gordon’s future UA teammate Rondae Hollis-Jefferson cracked a few jokes during practice today at St. Mary’s Home for Boys – and at one point planted a few words within about an inch of Jabari Parker’s ear – Jones said Hollis-Jefferson is “not one of those types of kids where that’s a bad thing.”
Bottom line, Jones said, Arizona is getting two special players next season.
“Both of them have improved tremendously, and they started out at a pretty high level to begin with,” Jones said. “They’re great kids. Arizona is getting two young men that I think the entire university community will be proud of.”
My impression of Gordon was similar after today’s practice. Friendly, but no-nonsense.
I asked him how he was holding up over the past few weeks, having traveled to Chicago (for the McDonalds All-American Game), New York (Jordan Brand Classic) and now Portland.
“Just playing. Good,” he said.
Then I asked if he still felt as badly about the Jordan game as he indicated on Twitter. (Gordon had three points and three rebounds, after he was MVP of the McDonalds game.)
“Definitely,” he said. “I played terribly. I have high expectations for myself and I didn’t meet it.”
Among other things, I asked what he thought about Grant Jerrett’s decision to turn professional.
“Whatever is best for him is best for him,” Gordon said. “It’s really independent to my success.”
After the workout, several students at the St. Mary's Home for Boys went up to Gordon to shake hands and express admiration for his skills. The USA Select team put on a clinic for the school, which is home to at-risk youth, before practicing.
Hollis-Jefferson was looking forward to the challenge of guarding World team star Andrew Wiggins of Canada, the undecided wing who is rated the top player in the 2013 class.
“I think a lot of people will really see how good a defender I am,” Hollis-Jefferson said.
Jones said Hollis-Jefferson will be one of several players to take a shot at Wiggins.
“The game plan is that we just obviously want to win the game,” Jones said. “They’re incredibly talented as well. This is the best world team, talent-wise, since they’ve been putting on the tournament and to put all our focus on one kid is not going to be very productive.”
Wiggins had 20 points and seven rebounds to lead the World team to a 84-75 victory over the USA last year. Kaleb Tarczewski was UA’s only representative in that game, going without a rebound or point in eight minutes.
It was a busy day for Gordon, Hollis-Jefferson and the USA players. They had the clinic, a two-hour practice, and then another two-hour practice scheduled for this evening.
But that didn't bother Gordon, apparently.
I must be crazy... I love two-a-days— Aye G (@_AG_32) April 20, 2013
Hollis-Jefferson checked in with a wingspan of 7-foot-1 on his 6-foot-6 1/2 frame (with shoes) in the USA's official measurements. Gordon was listed at 6-9 and 212.
The full rosters for the Hoop Summit game can be found here.