One year ago, Aaron Gordon caught the attention of the sports world with a highlight-filled performance at the McDonald’s All-American Game. While college basketball followers everywhere were star-struck by his athleticism, Arizona fans were just getting a glimpse of what was to come.
The day before, Gordon made his “West Coast Wildcat” pledge and instantly turned into Arizona a national title contender.
As if expectations for Gordon’s freshman season weren’t already high enough, the 17 year old spent last summer leading the United States to a championship at the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Prague.
By the time he began classes in Tucson, Gordon was already one of the most-talked about names in college hoops, a key component to the “Year of the Freshman” narrative fueled by the national media.
Early on in the season, it didn’t always look like Gordon was ready to be in the conversation of the nation’s top freshman.
With a work-in-progress jump shot and a low free throw shooting percentage, Gordon didn’t consistently light up the box score like Jabari Parker at Duke. However, part of the reason why he didn’t boast such gaudy numbers was that Arizona didn’t need Gordon to carry the offense on his shoulders, like the Blue Devils needed with Parker.
This was never more apparent than when the two faced off against each other in Madison Square Garden. Parker took 21 attempts in the game, making only seven, while also committing five turnovers. He clearly forced things, but out of necessity for his team.
Gordon, on the other hand, finished with 10 points and seven boards and also dished out a few key assists.
However, Gordon’s biggest presence in that win as well as many other victories this season was felt on the defensive end. With 45 seconds left, Gordon swatted away a shot by Rasheed Sulaimon and solidified the NIT Season Tip-Off Championship.
A few weeks later, Gordon played stellar defense in the final minutes of the Wildcats’ road win at Michigan.
Gordon became more aggressive on offense in conference play, especially after Brandon Ashley went down with his season-ending injury.
At Colorado, he scored a career high 23 points, 21 of which came in the second half. In the final minutes, the Buffs practically gave up defending Gordon, as they had no way to stop his drives to the lane.
Through the end of the season, Gordon continued to display his defense and also showcased his athleticism on electrifying fast-break dunks.
And on the biggest stage, Gordon terrorized Arizona’s first three opponents with his defense and improved shooting from behind the arc. Against Wisconsin, Gordon couldn’t find his stroke but did everything in his power to take Arizona to the Final Four. It just wasn’t quite enough.
As Gordon prepares to enter the NBA Draft (all indications are that he will go pro), the biggest question remains his shooting, particularly from the charity stripe. At the next level, he won’t be able to get past defenders as easily so having a consistent jumper is vital.
Right now, it looks like Gordon will be a sure-fire top 10 pick and may even crack the top five. His athleticism will carry him a long ways and no one can question his motor.
It will certainly be bittersweet for Arizona fans to see Gordon depart but when he committed early last April, everyone knew this was the plan. Now it’s come to fruition.