Watching Orlando Magic rookie Aaron Gordon play basketball, you’d never know he’s the youngest player in the NBA. Blessed with a combination of size and athleticism matched by few players in the world, the little things in Gordon’s game somehow still stick out. He’s just as likely to block a shot into the stands or finish a lob from the rafters as he is make an extra defensive rotation or cut hard to the rim to create an open shot for a teammate, precocious mental aspects of his play that forecast big things to come.
And when talking to Gordon, you certainly wouldn’t think he’s 18 years-old, either. The University of Arizona product is a seasoned conversationalist, exuding intelligence and confidence while somehow maintaining a real air of modesty and perspective. If only we all were afforded such gifts.
Gordon took some time from his busy schedule at last week’s Rookie Transition Program to talk with Dime, touching on merits of the RTP, what he plans to bring to Orlando as a rookie, the biggest difference between the pro and college games, and more. Let’s just say that if Gordon is half as composed on the court as he is on the phone, there’s a good chance he’ll win Rookie of the Year this season.
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Dime: How’s the Rookie Transition Program going so far?
Aaron Gordon: I think it’s an excellent program. I believe that it’s really progressing and I can tell from some of the current and former players that are here talking to us that that’s the case. There’s a lot of great life advice here. It’s long – it’s 13 hours out of your day – but every hour there’s stuff for us to learn at and get better at as young players.
Dime: Is there anything specific you want to take from the program? A lot of players talk about the financial lessons – both basketball-related and otherwise – they learned at the program as things they really enjoyed. Is there anything specific you want to the from the RTP?
Gordon: You know, we’re here for a reason. So I believe that everything that’s been said and talked about is everything that I need to take in. There’s been a lot of things. But at the end of the day if you’re not gonna apply them to your life then this is a waste of time. So there’s not one specific thing that I would take over anything else – this is all really important stuff. Every single person here is saying what they’re saying to help guide us along our young careers. So for me not to take their advice would just be stupid, you know? I just want to apply everything I’ve learned here. That’s the main thing.
Dime: Has there been a presentation or speaker so far that’s made an especially big impact on you?
Gordon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Chris Herren’s was really cool. I’ve seen the 30 For 30 on ESPN, but to see him in person and see how passionate he is, and hear him talk about everything he’s been through has just been a huge, huge motivation for me to stay away from things like that, you know? He had everything going for him and was almost homeless by the end of his bad experiences. Him and Jason Williams – J-Will went through some stuff, too. I just think those are two perfect examples of wrong decisions that really affect your life.
Dime: All of the presentations, speakers, and stuff like that is obviously really important, but I assume getting to spend some time with your fellow rookies is another benefit of the Rookie Transition Program. Are there any guys you’ve become especially close with throughout the draft process and going through to the RTP?
Gordon: All of these guys are great guys. They all have personalities and they’re all fun in their own specific way. Basketball’s a really small world, so I’ve known a bunch of these guys for a long time. What I’m really trying to do is get more acquainted with [Magic teammates] Elfrid Payton and Roy Devyn Marble because that’s who I’m going to be spending so much time with during the season. At the end of the day we’ll leave this Rookie Transition Program as competitors, you know? It won’t be so happy, fun-and-games with everybody. But if I can continue getting to know Elfrid and Roy Dev better, it will just really help us as a team.
Dime: It’s funny you should say that about competition with your fellow rookies – my next question is whether or not you take any pride of being part of such a talented draft class, if in 10 years you’ll look back and be proud to be drafted in 2014 with guys like Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. I’m guessing not?
Gordon: It’s hard to say one way or another because for me it’s hard to think so far forward and then have to think back to and live in the moment. But I’m proud that I’m part of such an elite group of basketball players and that I’m playing with the world’s best. But at the end of the day I’m not too worried about them; I’m only concerned with what I can do.
Dime: You’re a really young guy – the youngest player in the NBA, actually, so congratulations that. Amazing that you’re where you are at 18 years-old.
Gordon: Thanks, man. Appreciate that.
Dime: So what is it that you’re going to bring to the Magic this season specifically? As an 18, 19 year-old rookie?
Gordon: A little bit of everything. I believe that I’m a 6-9 playmaker, so whether that’s getting an offensive rebound and bringing it down myself, being able to knock down a periodical three-pointers and mid-range jumpers, and getting to the rim I just want to be aggressive. I think I’ll be able to do a lot of things. But what I’m most looking forward to is defending. I want to be able to defend the greatest players in the world and see how I stack up. So every single night I’m gonna give it my all because I don’t want to be the one on SportsCenter getting blasted for 30 points, you know?
Dime: What’s the biggest difference between the pro and college games that you noticed during Summer League. The competition will be different during the regular season, obviously, but I’d imagine even Summer League requires quite an adjustment for rookies.
Gordon: It’s been real rapid. I went from high school to college to the pros in two-and-a-half years, you know? In high school if you see something, your instincts will allow you to do it a second or two late. In college, your instinct has to be right on time. And in the NBA, your instinct has to be a second early. That’s pretty much the main difference.
Dime: You mentioned that you really want to make an impact on defense this season, and that’s been a strength of your game for a long time – guarding multiple positions, getting steals and blocks, and wreaking general havoc on that end. Is there any NBA player you’re especially looking forward to guarding?
Gordon: Just everybody, man. Like I said, there’s no bad players in the NBA. Every single night I’m gonna come out and give it my all. Yeah, sometimes I might get a little more up for a LeBron or KD and some other people, but at the same time I’m always gonna play defense and try my hardest to help my team win.
What do you think?
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