San Jose Clash

by January 15, 2013
aaron gordon


by Farmer Jones / portraits Atiba Jefferson

Aaron Gordon was ticking off the names of his fellow prep All-Americans, and he sounded more than a little annoyed. “I know Jabari has played, the twins have played, Marcus has played,” Gordon was saying. “I think maybe it’s a conspiracy to keep us down.”

All right, so it wasn’t really that serious. Gordon was simply miffed that, as of early December, while some of the best-known names in the Class of 2013 were already lighting up scoreboards, he and his San Jose (CA) Archbishop Mitty squad had yet to start their season. He wasn’t actually mad that his highly ranked peers were already on the court, but he was itching to get out there himself. This is a kid who loves playing the game, and it shows.

When Mitty’s season did finally start, Gordon scored a dunk-filled 18 points (in barely more than a half) to get the defending state champs off to a good start. He was the focal point on opening night, and it’ll be like that all year. Not only is he one of the top-10 players in the nation, but he’s setting the tone for a Mitty squad that lost four of five starters. Best believe he’s up for it.

“Another state title is all we can set our aspirations for. We can’t make excuses,” Gordon says. “There’s a lot of expectations, and everyone looks up to me. I’m going to lead by example, and everybody has to follow.”

Such talk is born from talent, confidence and perspective, traits Gordon has in excess. The talent is obvious to anyone who has seen the athletic 6-8—“6-8 and a quarter,” he insists—223-pound forward in action. Accurately self-described as a “mismatch player,” Gordon says he feels at home as a big, small or point forward. “Some college coaches want me as a point forward, others want me as a solid 3,” he says, “I don’t really consider myself having a true position.”

Of course, such versatility is part of Gordon’s massive appeal to those college coaches, particularly the small handful whose interest he’s still considering. As of late-December, Gordon’s list was down to Arizona, Kentucky and Washington. “I’m just playing it by ear,” he says. “I wake up one day thinking I’m going somewhere, and go to sleep thinking I’m going somewhere else.”

A conundrum that brings us back to perspective, something Gordon earned during his older brother Drew’s ill-fated recruitment by UCLA. “That completely backfired on my family,” Gordon says of his brother’s tumultuous time in Westwood, which ended with Drew transferring to New Mexico, his reputation tarnished and eventually playing overseas. “I’ve seen that some coaches are very truthful, say exactly what they mean, while others say what they mean at first… it just kind of opened my eyes.”

Gordon should benefit from having had a front-row seat to his brother’s experience; he might also benefit from not needing to stay at whatever college for more than a year. A player who admires Kobe, Carmelo and KD for their ability to make the game “operate on their timetable” has the chance to do the same with his basketball future. If his confidence and perspective continue to serve him well, Gordon won’t have to wait ’til December for the season start much longer.

After all, the NBA usually tips off around Halloween.