Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller says there’s “no prima-donna” in Aaron Gordon, claims the freshman forward’s approach is “drop-dead professional.”
He’s a rarity, Gordon is.
There’s the unreal talent.
There are all the accomplishments (MVP of McDonald’s All-America Game, MVP of the U19 world championships last summer), all the expectations (high NBA lottery pick in 2014, potential MVP of the Pac-12), all the pats on the back.
“He’s a monster,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said at Thursday’s Pac-12 Media Day.
And yet the thing Miller can’t stop raving about is how Gordon is unspoiled by success, unfazed by his potential.
“The first thing to understand about Aaron is he may be the hardest worker in our conference,” Miller said today on the Pac-12 Networks.
“He’s the hardest worker on our team. He is the earliest to practice every day and the last to leave. And he’s a great teammate.
“He’s earned the right to have high expectations and the praise, but how he’s handled it, to me, is the greatest gift he’s given to our team.”
Junior guard Nick Johnson, who has known Gordon since their AAU days, echoed the sentiment about the Gordon being a willing learner, about knowing that he doesn’t know it all at 18 years old.
“When he first got here this summer, he sent me a text and told me, anything you want to tell me to help ease my transition, go for it,” Johnson said. “Coming from a McDonald’s All-American and that highly rated of a player, I knew right away what kind of person we had in him. He’s a joy to be around.”
When Gordon (6-9, 225) arrives early and stays late after practice, he is working on his shooting. Can he threaten teams with his jumper? Can he be an all-around small forward?
He’ll go around the arc, shooting mid-range jumpers. Then 3-pointers. He’ll shoot on the move. Take a dribble and shoot. He’ll make himself drain two in a row from a spot before moving on, put some pressure on himself. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.
“My jumper is a lot better,” he said at last month’s Arizona Media Day.
“That’s one thing I’m really happy about. I need to be able to make shots when people pass me the ball and I’m open.”
Gordon spoke about a variety of other topics that day. Here is a sampling:
On his brother, Drew Gordon, who played at UCLA and New Mexico:
“My brother has given me, like, my ‘dog’ mentality. Just fighting through each game, being able to play against bigger defenders, he’s really made me tough. He is the one who me my motor. He showed me that you really just can’t back down from anybody.”
On where his lack of an out-sized ego comes from:
“I don’t really know where I got that from. I’m just kind of like that. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything yet. And the funny thing about that is, when I feel like I have accomplished that, I still won’t be a cocky or overconfident guy.”
On his role as a leader as a freshman:
“I don’t think anybody doubts my leadership skills. I’m just as vocal, just as energetic as I would be at any other time. I’m not going to step back in my leadership skills just because I’m a freshman. My coaches all say, ‘Go ahead, act like you’re a senior out there. We need your energy.’ And that’s what I’m going to do.”
On the pride he takes in his defense:
“I know that for me and Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson), that was part of the big things coming here, having two freshmen who pride themselves on defense. If I look at somebody who doesn’t pride himself on defense, I don’t know why they don’t. Defense is a huge part of the game. You can’t just focus on one side of the ball. It’s all about the process of winning, and I want to win.”
On being a likely one-and-done player in college:
“I’ve been entertaining that thought since I was a little kid. But when I’m here now, I focus on every day, focus on the process. It doesn’t really matter how many years I’m here — focus on getting better, getting wins, getting a national title. Everything else will come into play. I’m not worried about that at all.”