Wildcats basketball incoming freshman Aaron Gordon leads U19 USA to gold
Arizona incoming freshman forward Aaron Gordon was named most valuable player for the undefeated FIBA U19 World Champion Team USA. The U.S. beat Serbia 82-68 in the gold medal game in the tournament in Prague.
In a post game interview, Gordon said to USA Basketball that the win was “extremely satisfying” and that he couldn’t imagine getting anything besides gold.
“We actually had to put a lot of effort into it,” Gordon said. “But with a team with so much talent and a coaching staff with so much knowledge, it was actually hard to lose.”
Gordon led the Stars and Stripes in scoring, with 12.6 per game, and rebounding, 6.2 per game to earn the MVP honor. He also had two steals a game and shot 61.2 percent from the field.
“I was surprised when I was named all-tournament and once I got all-tournament I though ‘Hey, maybe I can get MVP too, here,’” Gordon said. “Then they said my name, I really didn’t even hear them say my name at first, I had to ask my teammates. But I’m very honored.”
The U.S. went 9-0 en route to America’s third world championship in the last eight U19 FIBA tournaments. The USA is now world champion in all men’s and women’s age groups in basketball.
“Aaron and Oak [Jahlil Okafor] played really, really well, as did Nigel [Williams-Goss], as did Justise [Winslow],” USA head coach Billy Donovan said in a press release. “Those young guys played really well but I think a lot of that had to do with them having really good leadership around them and I give the older guys a lot of credit for one, sacrificing, and letting those guys flourish the way they did.”
Serbia, which the United States beat 71-62 in second round play, led by as much as five points early in the title game before the Americans pulled away.
Beating the team that gave the Americans a tough match-up made the victory that much sweeter, Gordon said.
“We didn’t just come here and blow out all the competition, it was actually a hard-fought game both times we played Serbia,” he said. “So, to know that there are other very developed teams out there in the world and know that we’re the most developed, just means a lot, it’s a big step for the USA.”
The U.S. is 78-13 in what was originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship and have won five gold and three silver medals at the U19/Junior Worlds.
In the opening round, Team USA beat Ivory Coast (88-29), China (113-57) and Russia (115-47). Gordon shined against China, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in the blowout.
Then in the second round, the Americans beat Brazil (91-66), Australia (94-51) and Serbia.
In the quarterfinals, the U.S. blew out Canada (109-67) and in the semifinals it beat Lithuania (100-60).
Gordon played power forward but Arizona head coach Sean Miller told USA Today last month that Gordon will play small forward for the Wildcats.
“We happen to have two starters back: Brandon Ashley, who played the four for us, and Kaleb Tarczewski, who played the five,” Miller said to USA Today. “It makes a lot of sense for us to have the ability to play Aaron with those two and in between two guards. I believe in many ways that’s his most natural position, when you consider that he doesn’t get enough credit for what a good defender he is.”
Gordon, who has already earned an early nickname of “The Commissioner,” chose Arizona over Oregon, Kentucky and Washington. He was also the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game and the No. 4 overall recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN.com.
“[Gordon’s] greatest gift is his versatility,” Miller said to USA Today. “He’s going to play the forward. Certainly, he’s going to play with two big guys throughout.”