'No prima donna' in Arizona freshman sensation Gordon
OCT 10, 2013 1:16p ET
It's his poise. His presence. His confidence. And although some comments might have a tinge of brashness or bravado, he doesn't seem to intend it that way. He just has that feel of a player who can walk into a room and make people take notice.
On Saturday, during Arizona's annual Red-Blue Game at McKale Center beginning at 2 p.m., fans will get their first in-person glimpse of the high-flying freshman. Of course, plenty has been seen in the Internet highlight world.
"The greatest compliment I can pay is he acts like he's 22 years old in terms of the maturity that he has," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "It doesn’t matter if you are a coach or manager or older teammate; he's engaged and he listens.
"He wants to learn and he wants to get better. He knows he has things he can work on. His approach has been drop-dead professional. He's about the right things. He has no prima donna in him."
Given what Gordon already has accomplished -- and keeping in mind that he just turned 18 years old -- it wouldn't be a surprise if he did have some prima donna in him. But he's managed to stay level-headed. Arizona's possible one-and-done star has seen big egos before and, well, that's just not for him.
"All the time," he said of how often he sees young athletes with big egos. "I see it all the time. Everyone thinks they are better than they are. I see it from time to time. In my mind, I can (think) I can beat you, but I'm never going to say that."
What makes him different? Where does the humility come from? His older brother, Drew, who more than five years ago was recruited by former Arizona coach Lute Olson? His family, who has helped him throughout his journey that eventually brought him to Arizona over schools like Kentucky, Oregon and Washington? How does Miller's highest-rated recruit (ever) stay that way?
"I don't know where I really got that from; I'm just like that," he said. "I don't think I've accomplished anything yet. Funny thing about it is that when I feel that I've accomplished (something), I won't be a cocky or overconfident guy."
There's too much work to be done and plenty of basketball to be played. But a quick look at his past gives you a pretty good gauge of his future.
The former MVP of the McDonald's All-American Game and MVP of the U19 Worlds (at age 17) has magazine writers saying he's going to "be a stud." And the 6-foot-8, 215-pound sensation in sneakers is being talked about as a possible player of the year in the Pac-12 on a team tabbed as the clear-cut favorite.
"The thing I love about Aaron is the reason everybody in the world talks about him as a basketball player ... it’s because of what he’s earned, not because of what he’s supposed to be," Miller said. “He’s earned the right for people to talk about him."
Others are less interested in talking and just can't wait to play with him. With so many high flyers on this Arizona team -- Gordon, Nick Johnson, Gabe York and others -- it could be a highlight-reel season in Tucson. YouTube already has a plethora of Gordon's one-handed jams available for viewing.
"By far, the best rebounder I've ever played with and one of the most athletic guys I have ever seen," junior point guard T.J. McConnell said of Gordon. "I think it's going to be fun playing with him this year."
Gordon said the same thing about McConnell. With that in mind, they might make up the best alley-oop group at Arizona since Mike Bibby was throwing lobs to Bennett Davison and Michael Dickerson in 1997 and 1998.
"I haven't played with a point guard that good," Gordon said of McConnell. "I've played with a lot of point guards ... he isn't the most athletic guy but he's quick and he's fast. He's extremely smart. He makes passes I don't see. That's what's pretty impressive, because I usually have pretty good vision. I see a lot passes. He'll make a pass and I say, 'Where does that come from?' I cannot wait to play with T.J."
There are, however, some questions about Gordon's game. Can he make shots from the perimeter given that he's spent much of career around the basket, and much of that time dunking?
Gordon says he can and intends to prove it. He's worked tremendously hard on becoming a better shooter, coming in 45 minutes before practice to shoot and leaving 45 minutes after.
"I've worked on my footwork, and I'm a lot quicker," he said. "And my jumper is a lot better. That's one thing I'm really happy about ... I need to be able to hit shots when I'm open."
He says understands the concerns about his shot but is "so much more comfortable with it."
Where he'll play for the Wildcats may be the biggest question. Will he be primarily a power forward, where he's closer to the basket, or a small forward, where he can create athletic mismatches, assuming his shot is as effective as he thinks it is?
One way or another, Miller will find a spot for him.
"I can play whatever I want to play," Gordon said jokingly, bringing laughter to his media audience. "People can't tell me what I can or can't do. I'm not worried what other people tell me."