In 2011, I attended the USA Basketball tryouts for the U16 squad that eventually won the FIBA world championship in Mexico City.
Some of the best preps in America competed in that event in Colorado Springs, Colo. Jabari Parker, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, Stanley Johnson and other high-profile recruits cracked that impressive gold-medal winning roster.
Throughout that tryout, a lanky kid was sidelined with an ankle injury. But he made every cut. He was unavailable, but the USA Basketball folks wouldn’t send him home.
That was strange, I thought. But I also didn’t know who he was.
On the final day of tryouts, however, Aaron Gordon taped that ankle and showcased the skill set that’s made him a blue-chip prospect who will be a freshman at Arizona in 2013-14.
His stock has skyrocketed in recent years, but he’s also been pegged as a mystery. Is he the next Blake Griffin? Can he do anything but dunk? Can he affect the game when he’s not near the rim?
Well, Gordon answered some of those questions when he earned MVP honors for the U19 squad that won the FIBA world title on Sunday with an 82-68 victory over Serbia in Prague, Czech Republic.
Aaron Gordon (Archbishop Mitty H.S./San Jose, Calif.), who averaged USA highs of 12.6 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, plus 2.0 steals a game while shooting 61.2 percent from the field, was selected MVP of the U19 World Championship. Joining him on the five-player U19 all-tournament team was teammate Jahlil Okafor (Whitney Young H.S./Chicago, Ill.), and rounding out the team were Vasilje Micic of Serbia, Dante Exum of Australia and Dario Saric of Croatia.
“I feel very, very honored my country asked me to coach this team. I think USA Basketball could have picked a lot of coaches who would have done a wonderful job,” said USA and University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan. “I thought the thing that changed our team was we had a great group coming back from last year (2012 USA U18 Championship Team) that had some experience, and I think the adding of Nigel (Williams-Goss), (Aaron) Gordon, (Jahlil) Okafor, Justise Winslow, those guys being a little bit younger so to speak, added a different element to our team. It was a special team and I just feel honored that I could be a part of it.”
Gordon was a highlight reel. Just watch this clip. And then, watch it again.
He’s an amazing athlete. We already knew that.
But his effort on the international stage also proved that Gordon could be a superstar and a versatile threat next season.
There was a lot of buzz about Parker, Julius Randle and Andrew Wiggins entering the most recent signing period. But Gordon is an elite player, too.
The MVP distinction doesn’t guarantee anything for next season, but it certainly suggests Gordon could be the real deal. And if he’s the real deal, what does that mean for Arizona?
We’ve spent the offseason touting the potential of a Kentucky team that boasts six McDonald’s All-Americans in its latest recruiting class. We’ve also talked about Kansas’ elevated ceiling now that Wiggins is in Lawrence. Duke is in the mix, too. (The Blue Devils are No. 1, if you ask NC State’s Mark Gottfried.) And we can’t forget about a Louisville squad that features multiple players from last year’s national championship squad.
The Wildcats, however, haven’t attracted similar praise. But they deserve a spot in the conversation about national title hopefuls.
If we’re going to hype other teams that will be forced to rely on youth, then it’s not prudent to overlook the Wildcats.
That’s a strong roster.
Again, Gordon and the rest of the incoming freshmen have to prove they can contribute every night once the season begins. But Gordon’s effort in the FIBA world championships was certainly promising.
So don’t sleep on Gordon. Or Arizona.
Also, watch that dunk again.