Aaron Gordon’s reputation as the best dunker in high school basketball precedes him.
But the title doesn’t define him.
Gordon, one of the top 10 seniors in the country and a major UK target, is more than just a dunk machine.
And Matt Shrigley found that out the hard way.
Shrigley, now a freshman at San Diego State, was one of the best prep players in California last season, earning four-star status from ESPN. A California state title game pitted Gordon’s Archbishop Mitty against Shrigley’s La Costa Canyon.
Mitty coach Tim Kennedy recalled the immediate intensity that Gordon brought to that matchup.
“The first play of the game, he climbed up into (Shrigley) and forced him into a turnover and just kind of set the tone that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be in you all day,’” Kennedy said.
Shrigley managed just one point in the first half.
Gordon ended the night with 33 points, 20 rebounds and a state championship.
“He’s very versatile,” Kennedy said. “For me, he plays almost every position. We’ll put him at the point. We’ll put him down on the block, and he can play the wing spots as well. We’re always looking to exploit matchups for him. He’s so explosive.
“And he can just hound you on defense. That’s definitely one thing that gets overlooked. He’s our leader out on the defensive side of the floor. And he’s such a great communicator. He’s the one talking, directing traffic. He’s just a top-flight competitor.”
It’s no wonder John Calipari wants him to be part of his epic 2013 recruiting class.
Gordon will be in Lexington this weekend for the last of his five official visits. The 6-foot-8 forward from San Jose, Calif., has already seen Washington, Arizona, Oregon and Kansas.
Gordon’s recruitment was the subject of an article in his hometown newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, last week. In that story, Gordon and his family seemed weary of the recruiting process.
Kennedy has seen it unfold firsthand.
“That type of process — everybody is trying to get a piece of him and everybody’s calling him trying to find out what he’s going to do,” he said. “Not just the college coaches, but media outlets and bloggers and people around campus too. Everybody wants to know, ‘What’s his next move?’ And they want to be the first to know. That definitely is going to wear on you. But he always handles it with so much maturity.”
Gordon has always maintained that he’ll wait until after the college basketball season to pick a school, but some have wondered whether the drain of the recruiting process would lead to a quicker decision.
“For a time there, I thought it might,” Kennedy said. “But he’s standing strong with saying he’s going to wait until the spring. I think he’s going to stay firm to that. But, you never know. He’s a 17-year-old kid and his mind could always change. But I would not be surprised if he stands firm all the way.”
For now, Kennedy is just happy to have him around for one more season.
Gordon averaged 22.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots in leading Archbishop Mitty to the state championship last year. But those individual numbers could have been even higher.
“For people who don’t know, he was sick last year. He had mono,” Kennedy said. “And he played through it and would come in at the end of the game for one or two plays. He would be like, ‘Hey coach, let me just come in and lock this up. Help with a defensive stop.’ You know, not caring that it’s going to affect his stats, his points per game or whatever. But just making sure that we win. He’s somebody that’s all about the team and winning.”
That attitude would fit in nicely with what Calipari has cooking for 2013. The UK coach has already brought in Andrew and Aaron Harrison (the top two guards in the country), James Young (another top-10 player), Marcus Lee (a five-star power forward) and Derek Willis (another versatile forward). And UK is still recruiting Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson, all of whom will be instant-impact freshmen.
If Gordon picks UK, he probably won’t be the No. 1 option on offense.
Kennedy said he doesn’t need to be, just as long as he’s on the court.
“Aaron can blend into any situation,” he said. “With all five schools he’s got, he’ll thrive in whatever system or whatever program he goes to. Just in being how competitive he is, he’s going to find a way to get minutes and get touches and get scores. He’s so versatile that coaches are going to see they need him on the floor, because he gives you a much better chance to win.”
Kennedy was present for each of Gordon’s in-home visits — including the one with Calipari and the UK staff. The Mitty coach said Calipari posed for photos with people in Gordon’s neighborhood, something unique to the coaches who showed up. “He was the only one,” Kennedy recalled with a laugh.
As far as Calipari’s recruiting pitch, Kennedy said there weren’t any surprises. But the UK coach did leave an impression.
“I think it’s pretty much like what you’ve seen with his shows on the Kentucky All-Access on ESPN there,” Kennedy said. “He lets you know, ‘We want you. We don’t need you, but we want you. We’re Kentucky and this is who we are, this is what we’re about, and this is how we do things.’ I think he’s very up front with guys and lets them know that he’s going to take care of you and you’re going to become better.
“He goes through what it’s going to entail being a Kentucky basketball player. And it’s definitely something that, as a basketball player, it’s appealing. You have all of the facilities. You have the great fan base. You’re going to be playing on the biggest stage.”