Gentle Ben

Before he was making trips to New Orleans for the Final Four, current Editor-in-Chief (and Westchester, NY representative) Ben Osborne was covering hometown heroes in the PUNKS section. In celebration of Ben Gordon’s (another Westchester, NY rep) born day, here’s a story from SLAM 46 (November, ’00) penned by the EIC about the former Mt. Vernon, NY shooting guard.—Ed.

by Ben Osborne / @bosborne17

SLAM has come to hang with Ben Gordon for a hot second. A little Q&A, a few flix, and call it a day. But moments after entering Mount Vernon High, a sprawling school minutes north of New York City, it becomes clear that SLAM won’t be the only media outlet talking to Ben today. Turns out there’s going to be a press conference where Ben will tell a group of local cable and newspaper folks, as well as the tireless UConn traveling media, that he, a combo guard extraordinaire, will be a Husky next fall.

Just hours before the chaos begins, though, Ben is calm like Morcheeba. “Picking a school was just about going with the flow,” he says softly. “I didn’t have a date set or anything, but I went up to UConn and felt it was the best place for me, so why wait?”

Gordon, who averaged 24.6 ppg, 4.apg, 4.1 rpg and 3.7 spg for a team that went 28-0 and won the NY State Class A Federation title (winning the public title, then beating the state Catholic champ), handles all queries with a similar peacefulness.

Why did Gordon eschew the ample AAU opportunities thrown at him this summer? “People tried to pressure me to play, but I wanted to relax in my last summer at home,” he says. “I went to adidas camp and did pretty well, so other than that I’m just working out with guys here and by myself.”

Maybe the biggest reason for Gordon’s healthy perspective is that he didn’t grow up on basketball. He was born in London to his vacationing Jamaican mother Evonne. though they moved to the States before he was one and to Mount Vernon before he turned three, he didn’t attend a varsity game at the storied school (the Knights also won a state title in ’91 and dominated the 70’s and 80’s with cats like Gus and Ray Williams and Rodney and Scooter McCray) until he played in one as a freshman.

“Ben has started to learn about the tradition, but I think he’s happy to make his own history,” says Mount Vernon coach Bob Cimmino. “People here love him. He’s an unassuming, respectable kid and is always received tremendously.”

Of course, manners and composure don’t pay Jim Calhoun’s bills, but the UConn coach figures to benefit from Gordon’s other skills: namely, the 6-2, 180-pounder’s tight handle, quick first step, and athleticism that allows him to lock dudes up at one end and jump over them at the other. He’s got serious court smarts, too. Picture Travis Best with two more inches and no brain locks. “Ben understands how to play basketball better than anyone I’ve seen,” Cimmino gushes. “A lot of people can make great passes or hit great shots, but he knows the right timing; it’s almost as if he’s read the script or seen a tape of the game before it happens.”

Gordon, who became a U.S. citizen last year, plans to follow up a great senior year by becoming a solid Big East citizen. “I’d like to at least win another state public title,” he says. “And as far as college, Coach Calhoun told me not to worry about picking a specific position; he just wants somebody that can make plays. I think I fit that description.”

And more.