Gordon's quest for perfection leads way for Arizona

Aaron Gordon's drive to be the best has him, Wildcats playing for spot in Sweet 16.

Aaron Gordon had 16 points in Arizona's win over Weber State and is averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

Gregory Bull / Associated Press

SAN DIEGO -- Aaron Gordon wants to be perfect.

Arizona's freshman phenom knows deep down that he'll never get there, but for an 18-year-old basketball prodigy, it's surprising he even knows what he's looking for and realizes that there is truly no final destination.

As Arizona coach Sean Miller has said, "maturity might be his biggest gift." His hard work and determination to succeed don't hurt.

On Sunday against Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament's West Region, it'll all be showcased once again.

And Gordon, as always, will be after perfection.

It's the reason he took a class called "Facade of Perfection" in high school. In what became his favorite course, he considered the fakeness of what society wants youth to be and the advertising that surrounds it. Makeup, clothes, all the up-to-date material stuff.

"It's just not true, (and) it damages people's minds because nobody is perfect," he said. "Perfect is an abstract thing. Trying to be perfect is abstract. No one is perfect."

And yet the 6-foot-8 forward -- who has helped lead the Wildcats here with a chance to reach their third Sweet 16 in four years -- is trying with all his might. In what might turn out to be the only year of his college career, Gordon is averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.

"I'm a perfectionist," he said. "What interested me in that class is that you're never going to be perfect -- no matter how many shots you take and no matter how long you're going to be in the gym, you're just not."

That said, it's about being as perfect as you can possibly be, he said.

So Gordon continues to work as hard as he can on his game -- ballhandling, dribble drives, dunks, jumpers and, yes, free throws.

"I want to shoot them perfect every time," he said, "but if you want to shoot it perfect every time, you're not going to do it."

He's been far from perfect from the line this season, hitting just 43 percent of his freebies. Earlier this season, Miller predicted Gordon would eventually get to 60 percent. That hasn't happened, of course, but some days did look better. Two weeks ago, Gordon went 7 for 12 against Oregon, and he has hit at least 50 percent of his shots from the line in three of his last of six games.

More disheartening was his performance in the Pac-12 tournament final, when he went just 2 for 8 from the line -- Arizona went 6 for 16 as a team -- and was distraught after the loss to UCLA.

"I hate to lose," he said then, one of the few comments he made to the media.

Losing is tough, and when you win so often, it's easy to get on to the next game. When you don't lose too often, a loss is more devastating. I do need to work on that as a player.

Aaron Gordon

Soon after, junior point guard T.J. McConnell sat down with Gordon and essentially told him that he did not lose the game and that he needed to get over it. After all, the Wildcats' season wasn't over, as there was still everything to play for in the NCAA tournament.

"I told him our record was because of him and that we lose as a team and win as a team," McConnell said.

Gordon took it to heart and has moved on, although he admitted that "it's still hard for me to take someone's advice. We just didn't get it done.  It's why I'm still hard on myself."

Keep in mind that Gordon doesn't lose often. In fact, he said, it's happened just seven times -- against more than 100 wins -- in his last two years of basketball.

"Losing is tough, and when you win so often, it's easy to get on to the next game," Gordon said. "When you don't lose too often, a loss is more devastating. I do need to work on that as a player -- to get over losses like that -- because that's part of the game. It's something that I needed to get out of my head and move on to the next game."

Gordon, who belies his age with his maturity, said he'll undoubtedly get better at handling losses.

"I'm not going to go my entire career without losing. It's part of the game. It just makes me want to work harder. When you lose and you fall, it's a trampoline to rise more."

Gordon's version of a trampoline: After Arizona returned home from the loss to the UCLA, he went to the gym and worked. After practice, he was in the gym. Before practice, he was in the gym. In his mind, it's the path to perfection.

"It's just what I do," he said. "When I lose, I feel a deficiency in myself and it drives me crazy, and all I do is work to get that deficiency out of the way."

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