As I sat in the middle of the Dawg Pack with about 20 minutes until tip against #8 Arizona yesterday afternoon, a friend leaned over and asked me “Do you think this game will change things for Aaron Gordon?” I, of course, gave the standard answer. I told him that most recruits often care less about the current game to game successes of the programs that are recruiting them then one might think, because they are picturing themselves on the team, and in the case of five-star one and done types like Gordon, they also understand that their very presence would change things. They care about the program, the coaches and such, and they probably care to a certain extent about who will be on the team later, but just because one team beats another while a recruit is still a high school student doesn’t mean the losing team is reduced in the eyes of that recruit.
And I hope that answer provided my friend some comfort after Washington’s final few disastrous possessions sealed an Arizona win. Of course, I could be wrong. Gordon is an individual, he can’t be reduced to sentences like “well, most recruits…” Maybe he was sitting there on his couch, watching the game on ESPN when he saw the failed Gaddy lob and the shocking Aziz N’Diaye corner three attempt and said to himself “Wow, I don’t know about Washington, that was bad.” But I doubt it.
If Gordon was really watching the game, which seems reasonable, though I do not know for sure, I think that rather than hurt Washington, the loss more likely allowed him to see first hand something Romar has likely been telling him all along: Washington needs you. Arizona wants you.
I think it is very likely that Gordon either chooses Arizona or Washington, even if he still has Kentucky in his top-three, and so the difference is key. It isn’t that Gordon couldn’t be a star at Arizona, I think it is likely that he would be if he chose Sean Miller’s program. But at a school with so much history, and such terrific recruiting year in and year out, Gordon wouldn’t automatically be hailed as that dude, the star freshman everyone is talking about. He’d still be the biggest recruit in Arizona’s Class of 2013, but they just nabbed several five-star recruits last year, and Gordon wouldn’t even be the only five-star small forward of the class. Rondae Jefferson, who committed to Arizona in September and has already signed his letter of intent, is considered the fourth-best three in the class by ESPN. A guy with as much talent and as much grit as Gordon probably doesn’t worry about choosing a program with a lot of talent as far as how it would effect his playing time. I’m sure he is confident he can get minutes anywhere, and he can.
But it would be different at Washington. Everyone on campus would be buzzing about him. He’d be the savior of the program, the first out of state five-star super recruit that Romar has landed. He would start immediately and get all the shots he could take, as long as he was playing defense and working within Romar’s system. Now, that’s a ton of pressure. Maybe Gordon doesn’t want it. There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to go to the team with more talent, more potential for deep tournament runs.
And yet, the idea of becoming a legend has to have some allure. All it would take is one big freshman year and a decent tournament run for Gordon to be thought of as one of the great players of the Romar era, alongside Roy and Thomas and Robinson. At Arizona, it’s likely Gordon would have too much veteran talent around him to distinguish himself to that extent in one year.
Another way to put this difference in perspective: imagine that Gordon picks Washington in the spring, spurning the Wildcats. The Arizona fanbase would be disappointed, surely. But they’d move on. They’d look at all their returning talent, they would look at Rondae Jefferson, and they would survive. If Gordon picks Arizona, the Husky fanbase will go nuts. Why? Cause it’s Gordon or bust. Sure, Nigel Williams-Goss looks great, and Darin Johnson has a lot of potential, but when you look at who from this year’s mediocre team is set to return, those two additions just don’t cut it. The only way fans can picture a highly competitive squad next year is with Gordon, and if it doesn’t happen, there will be calls for Romar’s job, and the fans will not forget. Just like with Terrence Jones, people will talk about what could have been for years.
The difference in reactions to Gordon’s loss mirror how the fanbases would feel if Gordon committed. What that means to Gordon totally depends on what he wants, and I don’t know what he wants. If he wants to have a chance to be a legend, have all the pressure on his shoulders so that he can win all the glory, while running the risk of spending his one year surrounded by iffy talent, Washington is likely his place. If he doesn’t care so much about his own personal legend, and just wants to display his talent to NBA scouts while competing as a likely top-5 team, Arizona is his deal. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Washington is the best pick for Gordon. I, as a fan of Washington sports, would personally like him to choose the Huskies, but Arizona is a terrific program, and they will likely have a much better chance to win a national title next year than UW. And I think for the average recruit, that is more important than getting to be an individual big deal. But depending on what Gordon wants out of his college experience, one or the other is probably more appealing.
We probably won’t know for sure where Gordon is going for several months, and we’ll never know how much this one game changed things, but the loss certainly served as an interesting look into the differences between the two programs for a super-recruit trying to choose between them. And no matter which team Gordon ends up playing for, I think it is likely that the decision is heavily influenced by those differences.