Arizona Wildcats basketball: With Aaron Gordon in the fold, next season can be special
Brandon Jennings was supposed to be the next great member of Point Guard U.
In 2007, then-Arizona head coach Lute Olson won the biggest recruiting prize in UA history.
Well, it was supposed to be.
Jennings, the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2008 class, reneged on his commitment to the Wildcats — instead choosing to play professionally for a year in Italy before declaring for the NBA Draft rather than donning Arizona’s navy blue and cardinal red.
Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 recruit in the nation according to ESPN, committed to play for the Arizona Wildcats on Tuesday, March 2, 2013. Gordon comes from San Jose, Calif., where he played basketball at Archbishop Mitty High School.
On Tuesday, Sean Miller reeled in Arizona’s latest big fish in Aaron Gordon, and provided he doesn’t pull a Jennings, the Wildcats will instantly become frontrunners for next year’s Final Four.
Gordon isn’t a point guard — rather a 6-foot-8, high-flying five-star forward — so there isn’t much room for comparison between him and Jennings, who’s the starting point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.
“Some people would say Brandon Jennings was more talented. Some people would say Aaron Gordon,” said Josh Gershon, a recruiting analyst for FoxSports and Scout.com. “Gordon has a lot of upside. 6-foot-8 athletes with his build and motor don’t grow on trees. You could very well make the argument that he’s the best NBA prospect to ever come to Arizona.”
After this year’s Sweet Sixteen run, the excitement built up for next year’s Arizona squad was already at fever pitch.
Nick Johnson and Arizona’s three talented freshman bigs — Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett — will all return, along with backup guard Jordin Mayes, Arizona’s lone senior.
The Wildcats were already adding a “true” point guard in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell and a do-it-all, five-star small forward in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
If that team’s ceiling was a Final Four, what does it mean for a Wildcats squad with Gordon in the mix?
“He’s a guy that is well-suited to help you win a national championship,” Gershon said. “He’s the best player the West Coast has seen in many years — with the possible exception of [UCLA’s] Shabazz Muhammad — so just an unbelievable talent.”
Gordon averaged 21.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 3.7 assists per game in his senior season at Archbishop Mitty High School. He’s often compared to high-flying Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, and while player comparisons can often be counterintuitive, the similarities between the two are hard to ignore, particularly in terms of their athleticism.
“Not to say he’s going to end up being that kind of player,” Gershon said, “but they’re very similar. He’s a freak athlete. He really plays hard and has terrific frame for a kid his size. When he’s in the paint, he’s just very difficult for opposing players to contain.”
The Wildcats didn’t necessarily need Aaron Gordon. With Ashley, Jerrett, Tarczewski and Angelo Chol down low and Jefferson at the three, it remains to be seen where exactly Miller plans on starting him.
But he will start. He might even star.
And if he’s on the level of Muhammad, who was a runner-up in Pac-12 Player of the Year voting, then Arizona should run away with the Pac-12 next year and deep into the NCAA tournament.
Putting the weight of a team on the shoulders of an 18-year-old is an exercise in futility (see: Turner, Josiah), but the Wildcats didn’t necessarily need him to lead them to the promised land.
He considered Oregon, Washington and Kentucky.
Let’s be honest: He was never going to Kentucky. The Wildcats have already secured six of the top-20 recruits in the nation and will likely snare No. 1 recruit Andrew Wiggins, too.
If Gordon went to Oregon or Washington, either one would have been his team. The Huskies are devoid of talent, and Oregon is losing at least four key contributors from its Sweet Sixteen run. He probably would have scored 20 points per game and maybe won Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Instead, he chose Arizona — a team that already had Top-10 talent without him.
A team where he might get half the touches he’d get elsewhere.
But also a team that can develop him the same way it did the similarly sized Derrick Williams, who was picked No. 2 overall in the NBA Draft in 2011.
More importantly, Gordon chose to come to a winning team — to make a sacrifice to win a championship. All signs point to him being more like Ashley-Tarczewski-Jerrett in his personality than Josiah Turner-Sidiki Johnson.
“He’s a coach’s dream, because it’s your best player,” said Tim Kennedy, his high school’s head coach. “But he’s also your hardest-working player. He fills up all the highlights and everything, but that is just half of what he does. He’s just an ultimate competitor, and all he cares about is winning. He’ll make big-time plays, but when it comes down to it, he’s all about winning.”