The USA Basketball U-19 team spent last weekend practicing at the Verizon Center before heading to Prague for the FIBA U-19 World Championship. They have a bunch of athletes who can play above the rim, but the 1 who receives the most oohs and aahs is an incoming Arizona super-freshman.
Aaron Gordon has yet to play a game as a collegian, but the expectations are sky-high for the MVP of the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game. He still has a lot of work to do to be recognized as the best basketball player among his siblings: his brother Drew was a star at New Mexico and his sister Elisabeth is entering her senior year with the Harvard women’s team. Jon Teitel got to spend some time talking with Gordon about becoming a Wildcat and the art of dunking.
You and your U-19 teammate Nigel Williams-Goss were also teammates at the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game. What did it mean to you to be named MVP of the McDonald’s Game, and is it going to be weird for you to switch from Nigel’s teammate to his Pac-12 rival? It meant a lot to me to be named MVP, but it also taught me not to be satisfied. Back in third grade I did a report on my hero, Magic Johnson. Magic was a McDonald’s All-American back in 1977, so to receive the same honor is a large milestone in my life. Nigel is a great player who knows how to win and has a deep passion for the game. We are friends for now but will become enemies during conference play.
Your older brother Drew played at New Mexico and now plays pro overseas. What has he told you to help prepare you for Division One basketball? He said that D-1 is a lot harder and faster than most people think and there is more to understand. He averaged a double-double for the Lobos so I trust him. There are many roads to get there so I will just try to pick the one that works best for me.
Your father Ed played at San Diego State and your sister Elisabeth currently plays for Harvard. Who is the best athlete in the family? I am the best athlete. In high school I played football and hoops and was also on the track and field team. Drew was a hell of an athlete in college and did it while weighing a lot more than I do. My dad used to jump out of the gym back in the day, but my siblings and I got our intelligence from our mom!
Why did you end up choosing Arizona for college? I saw myself as a missing piece who will be a perfect fit for their puzzle. I can step right in at the three spot and take it to the next level. My teammates are good people who are hungry to win, and I get along very well with Coach Sean Miller.
Dunking seems to be a big part of your game, do you have an all-time favorite dunk? My favorite is the double-double-pump: I bring the ball up over my head, then down to my knees, then back up again to dunk it. There are not a lot of other players who can do it.
You were quoted as saying, “I am not the type of player who can afford to be left on the bench”, what role do you expect to play for team USA? The good thing about this team is that if the starters need a break then there is no real drop-off when we bring someone in off the bench. When you are around so many talented players you have to elevate your game or risk being exposed, so it makes me dig deep within myself to play my best.
A lot of Wildcat fans/alumni have high expectations for next season, what are your own expectations? National title.