Gordon’s impressive credentials growing by the day

Aaron Gordon is averaging 12.2 points and 7.9 rebounds for Arizona heading into Thursday night's game with Arizona State.

Casey Sapio/Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

TUCSON, Ariz. — Aaron Gordon got wind of the news a couple of weeks ago: He’d be honored by USA Basketball as the Male Athlete of the Year.

It’s pretty clear who was most excited by the news.

"My mom texted me with a bunch of exclamation points," Gordon said. "She was really happy and (she) showed me the different people who have received the award."

It’s a long and prestigious list — LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Jason Kidd and many more.

It’s been quite the year for Gordon, who spent the summer earning Most Valuable Player honors at the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championship in the Czech Republic and is spending the winter as an integral and improving part of a No. 1 ranked Arizona team that has made school history with its 17-0 start. The Wildcats will go for No. 18 on Thursday night in Tucson against rival Arizona State in a FOX Sports 1 nationally televised game.

"It’s an honor — there are a couple of guys on the list who are up there I really look up there and admire their basketball talents," Gordon said Tuesday. "To be affiliated with them and a list like this is an honor."

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Gordon, a 6-foot-8 freshman forward, said it was "surreal" to have his name placed on the same list as LeBron James. Time will only tell if Gordon’s future is so bright, but it looks pretty good so far for Arizona.

He provides so much versatility. He can run, jump, rebound, defend and score around the basket. Arizona coach Sean Miller said that when he and Team USA coach Billy Donovan spoke last summer, Donovan said Gordon was "a winner and a fantastic teammate."

The latter helps with the former — just look at Arizona this season. As Miller said, he "blends well with other players."

"You don’t put your finger on one thing, but you learn to appreciate the whole — how he defends, how he runs the floor, the fact that he can pass and rebound," Miller said. "He’s unique."

Gordon is averaging 12.2 points and 7.9 rebounds a game. He has a team-leading seven double-doubles.

"He’s an outstanding player in almost every facet of the game," Washington State coach Ken Bone said.

Continued improvement is necessary, of course, even with the whispers of him being a one-and-done player at Arizona. Let’s not forget Gordon is just 19 (he was 18 when playing for Team USA). For Gordon, coming to Arizona is about leaving with things he didn’t have when he came.

Gordon said he’s made "bounds" of progress. And that he’s more familiar and comfortable in his situation, more should follow.

Outside shooting is an obvious area where there’s room to grow. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field — most of those close to the basket — but just 46.8 percent from the foul line.

"We help him and he helps himself to improve," Miller said. "When he first got back from the USA experience he’d judge himself how he would have shot the basketball from then to now, and it’s night and day."

Part of the balancing act has been working on things he’s already good at and things he’s not.

"But as you guys know, the role he has on this team is so essential to us winning because he does so many things to help UA win," Miller said.

As for the pressure in being one of the best freshmen in the country? Well, that’s just another thing he doesn’t worry about.

"Everybody is going to have expectations," he said, "but I don’t live for people’s opinions. It’s a daily thing where the pressure goes up and down, but I relax myself by saying all we need to do is win. That’s what I came in saying, and I’m going to stick to. I think I know how to win with a really good team like this. The pressure is non-existent."

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