Aaron Gordon has been the MVP of just about everything, has played in every big game someone can play in before college.
But as the minutes ticked down before his first tip-off with the Wildcats, Friday night against Cal Poly, he was just like any other 18-year-old freshman. What was this feeling during warm-ups? Nerves?
“What I said to myself to keep the nerves out is that basketball is basketball is basketball is basketball,” he said after Arizona’s 73-62 win over the Mustangs.
“No matter what level you’re at, no matter what place you play, basketball will always be the same game. That kind of got my nerves down.”
Basketball is basketball, and Gordon is Gordon, so the end result figures to be the first of many. He recorded a double-double — a team-high 13 points and 10 rebounds in 33 minutes — and here is how it happened for the 6-9 forward:
17:39 left in the first half — Gordon scores his first points at Arizona off a tip-in of Gabe York’s missed jumper.
17:04 — Gordon misses two free throws, which becomes a team-wide theme.
16:21 — Gordon sizes up a 3-pointer from the angle left and drains it. If he can make this shot with appropriate regularity, there will be no stopping him. The hole in his game, especially when he plays the small forward position, is supposedly his outside shooting.
“That’s what I’ve been doing,” he said of his shooting.
“That’s what I’m going to work on. I’m going to keep shooting. If I’m open, I’m going to shoot it. Your percentage goes up when you take the right shot. What I’m going to do is wait until the opportunity presents itself and then knock it down.”
15:49 — Gordon soars from behind and swats a lay-up attempt by Brian Bennett, the first of his four blocked shots.
14:43 — It’s the first dunk of Arizona’s career, as he takes a pass from the middle from point guard T.J. McConnell, dribbles once and rises up for the two-handed slam from the right side.
12:13 to 10:16 — Resting on the bench.
9:56 — Gordon picks up his first foul while going after Brandon Ashley’s missed free throw.
8:13 — Gordon maintains his vertical position under the basket and blocks the lay-up attempt of Dave Nwaba. Gordon recovers the ball and brings it up court, showing his versatility.
7:42 — Gordon hauls in a lob from Nick Johnson near the basket and is fouled. He misses the front end of a one-and-one.
7:07 — Gordon is a skilled passer, but his alley-oop attempt to Johnson goes awry. Turnover No. 1.
“He can throw that lob to Nick,” coach Sean Miller said. “But maybe in a game like we’re in you don’t take that chance if he’s not wide open.”
6:19 to 4:47 — Bench time.
2:26 — Gordon fights for a rebound underneath the basket and finishes with his second dunk.
0:05 — Gordon pulls down a defensive rebound — his eighth rebound of the game — and gets the ball up court before firing a halfcourt shot that draws iron but bounces away. (Desperation shots at the end of a half do not count toward 3-point shooting stats, unless they go in, of course.)
Halftime – Gordon has nine points and eight rebounds but is beginning to feel the effects of a groin strain that has bothered him for about two weeks.
“Aaron hasn’t practiced every day consistently for about 10 days,” Miller said.
“We’ve tried to be smart and protect him and sit him out. Tonight’s game, in the 33 minutes he played, 20 of the 33 minutes, you kind of really see him at full speed, and then he did the best he could for about 10 to 13. Especially the second half, you could see he wore down a little bit.”
18:34 of the second half — Gordon picks up his ninth rebound.
16:11 to 14:30 — Time on the bench.
10:00 — Gordon pops out on defense to block a 3-point shot from Chris Eversley as the shot clock winds down.
9:47 — Gordon drives to his left, muscles up a short jumper and is fouled. He makes the first free throw of his career.
8:08 to 5:51 — Time on the sideline.
4:36 — Block No. 4.
3:49 — Gordon gets his second good look from 3-point range, but this one doesn’t fall.
“He’s a much better shooter now than he was, and that’s due to hard work,” Miller said.
3:43 — Gordon hits 1 of 2 shots from the free throw line. He finishes 2 of 6.
“If he makes his free throws,” Miller said, “he has not a good night, he has a great night.”
1:06 — With the double-double hanging in the balance, Gordon reaches double-figure rebounding with a tip-in try of McConnell’s missed shot.
0:00 – Arizona wins, and Gordon is brought to the postgame press conference before hitting the ice bath.
“In a few days I will be back to normal,” he said of his groin strain.
All in all, a successful night.
“He is just such a unique player,” Miller said. “He is only going to get better as he keeps moving forward.”