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April 25, 2012
Eron Gordon: A prodigy in the spotlight
(Eron Gordon wears jersey #4, white)
Eric Gordon walked in the side door and climbed up the steps on the end of the gymnasium at Warren Central High School. Back in Indianapolis while rehabilitating a knee injury, the New Orleans Hornets shooting guard leaned across two rows of bleachers.
His parents sat a few seats away as the family settled in to a good spot with plenty of space. This was a special day. Eron Gordon, the youngest of the three Gordon brothers, was playing his final middle school game, his Westlane Middle School team entering this day unbeaten over the past two years.
The NBA guard's eyes never left the court as his youngest brother showed the moves and talent that made college coaches regulars at his middle school games over the season.
Eron Gordon drove to the basket with power and speed. He motored around defenders with quickness and polished moves that looked more like a veteran high school player. He snapped off smooth assists.
"He was always going to be pretty good," Eric Gordon said after Eron scored a team-high 15 points in Westlane's 46-27 victory over a group going to Pike, another Indianapolis basketball power.
Eron Gordon is indeed good.
Still in eighth grade, he sits firmly in the bright spotlight that shines on basketball prodigies in Indiana, especially ones already with scholarship offers from Indiana and Purdue before entering high school.
Indiana coach Tom Crean offered the 6-foot-2 guard a scholarship one Sunday and Purdue coach Matt Painter followed suit seven days later. Coaches from Michigan, Michigan State and Butler also went to middle school games to watch Eron. Other schools watched him this past weekend during an AAU tournament in Merrillville, Ind.
"It's just something every recruit has to go through," Gordon said. "I just look at it as a step in my life. I don't look at it as anything but that. There's a long way to go. I'm still just a fan of college. I don't let it go to my head."
Eron has grown up in basketball nobility.
Eric, the oldest of the three boys, was one of the nation's most sought-after players in high school. He won Indiana Mr. Basketball in 2007, eventually chose Indiana, led the Big Ten in scoring as a freshman then was the No. 7 pick in the 2008 draft. Evan, the middle son, started his college career at Liberty University, was named to the all-Freshman team, and is now playing for Arizona State.
Eric Gordon Sr., now a highly successful pharmaceutical sales manager who also runs the E3 Basketball Academy, was a standout at Liberty University, finishing runner-up as conference MVP to Jerome Kersey, who played 17 seasons in the NBA.
"He works hard. He trains every day," Gordon Sr. said. "He wants to be better than his brothers, there's no doubt."
The early college scholarship offers haven't bothered the family at all.
"That's fine," Gordon Sr. said. "We're going to keep working on his game, doing what we've been doing. It's good to know where he stands with schools. As far as I'm concerned, there are enough schools within 105 miles, you don't need to go any further. You have Purdue. You have IU. You have Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati, Xavier. You have everything you need right here."
The college attention became a staple of the season at Westlane Middle School.
Principal Linda Lawrence and other administrators began referring to the school as the University of Westlane with all the college coaches who were regulars at home games.
"Tom Crean shows up in your gym and you're like, 'Wow,'" Lawrence said. "We had so many scouts and coaches here, we dubbed ourselves the University of Westlane."
Sometimes early offers work out and sometimes they don't.
Two other players Indiana offered early, Trey Lyles and James Blackmon, both coming off their sophomore seasons, have shown they're on track to be special players. Lyles already is one of the top ranked players in the nation in the 2014 class and averaged 20.2 points and 10.9 rebounds in Class 4A.
There are cases on the other side. Then-Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie offered a scholarship to eighth-grader Michael Avery, who ended up at a Division II school.
"I can see both sides of it," Lawrence said. "I understand them really wanting to be here and check on the future. If they want an NCAA championship, they have to look down the pipeline. The other thing is the child staying balanced, remembering they have four years of high school basketball. Eron is a great example of a family keeping him balanced, keeping his head where it's at. Sometimes without the support, that's difficult.
"With E.J. and Evan going through the recruiting, the Gordons have that. It's a wonderful family. You don't' have to talk to them very long to know the Gordons have the best interest of their children at heart."
Speaking generally and not addressing any player specifically, Crean said he likes the idea of early offers to have a long relationship with prospects. He feels it's helpful to have a hand in emphasizing academics through a player's high school career.
When players visit IU, they spend time with academic advisors and Crean and the IU assistants spend time talking about academics and the requirements to be academically qualified. Crean feels that helps parents and teachers, having another voice emphasizing academic progress at a young age so players don't risk falling behind through high school.
"It can backfire but you know what, it's part of the game," Crean said of early offers. "It's part of where it's at now. A couple years ago, they changed the rules, counting seventh graders and above as recruitable athletes. I think we have some criteria we're always trying to follow. We're trying to look at intelligence and academic upside, athletic upside and as much as you can the character of the person and most importantly, the people around them, their family.
"It's easy to say when a player is young that it's hard to gauge those things, and it is. But if you spend enough time at it, and when we get involved and get people on campus, we spend a lot of time talking about what they're doing in school, what their prospect for AP classes is, what their grade point is like. You really can get locked into somebody. You don't have to coach them and tell them what they need to do, but you can really be locked into how they're going about things. We're far from the only program offering younger players."
Early offers have always been a hot topic.
Florida coach Billy Donovan is generally regarded as the first major college coach to start offering players very early. Several years ago it was major news when Florida got commitments from players during their sophomore year.
"It's so difficult to gauge what a kid is going to be when they're in ninth or 10th grade," ESPN college basketball commentator Dick Vitale said in a phone conversation with Peegs.com. "In so many cases, it's a no lose situation for the kid. The school takes a big gamble because things can change and you have to live by your commitment. I think it's too much of a risk unless there's a real connection between the kid and the school somehow.
"I think their junior year is plenty but coaches want to get the edge. They want to get that edge, that's what it comes down to ... getting an edge on the competition and hope he lives up to it. It's all about potential, and I guess you could take it one step further and say that's what's what the NBA draft has become. It's all about potential, potential, potential."
The Gordons are accustomed to being in the basketball spotlight. College coaches being around may be new for Eron but not new for the family.
"He gets excited and he always wants to do well," Gordon Sr. said. "When I know coaches are coming, I won't tell him. I just let him play basketball, but he sees them in the stands."
Eron isn't planning an early commitment. He said the early offers are nice but will only serve to have a positive impact.
"It's another step, really," he said. "It's basically motivation for me to work harder. No big change, just another step."
Eron has been to games at Indiana and Purdue on unofficial visits.
The buzz about Eron Gordon has permeated basketball circles.
During a tournament this spring in Indianapolis, Eric Gordon Sr. stood by the door, watching Eron play in an evening game when several high school players came rushing by. One of the high school players pulled his phone out of a gym bag.
"Get over here, Eron Gordon's playing," the high school player said into his phone. "Northview. Hurry up."
The group of high school players watched for a few minutes then realized Eron was on the bench with the score out of hand. The player made another call. "Forget it," he said, "Eron's not playing." The group walked out of the gym.
Eron's play shows he's deserving of the attention.
In an AAU game in Indianapolis, while facing players a year older, Gordon scored 32 points, including two dunks. The same night, Eric Gordon scored 25 points for the New Orleans Hornets. One game later, Eron scored 20 points.
In a tournament a week later, Eron had 22 points while suffering a sinus issue.
"He's definitely picked it up big time," Gordon Sr. said. "As an eighth-grader, he's picked up the pace of the game. He's probably a better player than Eric was at this stage, without a doubt. He just has to keep it up."
Eric Gordon scored 16.2 points per game as a 19-year old NBA rookie and is averaging 18.2 points per game for his career.
Eron is projected to be a starter as a freshman at North Central High School, one of the state's powerhouse basketball programs.
His athleticism is off the charts.
"He can dunk with two hands off either foot. He has a good basketball IQ. He reads it. He studies the game. He's a good learner. He accepts criticism real well," his dad said.
Eron's jump shot is one current area of focus. He's in the middle of changing it from a youngster's shot with eyes over the ball on the release to a more mature shot with the ball over the line of vision to the basket.
Working out regular with his dad, Eron spends quite a bit of time across the street from the family home in Indianapolis at the Jewish Community Center. He goes through drills working on his left hand, one-dribble pull-up jumpers, two-dribble pull-up jumpers, footwork and a host of other aspects.
Eron learns from his brothers, playing more with Evan, who is closer in age, than Eric.
"They help me a lot," Eron said. "They're honest with me. They tell me what I need to do better so I just apply it. Evan bangs me around a lot more, but they both do."
Eron has already drawn considerable praise for his diligent practice habits, attention to detail and attitude. "He's very coachable," said his AAU coach, Pat Mullin of the Eric Gordon All-Stars program.
Eron's middle school team went 53-0 over his seventh and eighth grade years, 75-1 overall going back to sixth grade. With his family pedigree and the interest in basketball in Indiana - particularly in Indianapolis - there was a buzz about Eron Gordon long before college coaches became part of the equation.
Eron was able to dunk at an earlier age than Eric, a fact he never forgets to bring up to his oldest brother.
Eric sees a budding star.
"He's already tall for his age and you look at his upper body, his arms, he's able to play through contact now," Eric said. "He has a better knack for scoring that I did. He can give you 25, 30 points in many different ways. He hits his jump shot. He takes the ball to the basket. He's got a mid-range game. He mixes it up."
The trash talk between the brothers is ever present. Eron likes to tell Eric, "You were the No. 7 pick in the draft, I'm going to be No. 1"
"I want him to be picked higher," Eric said.
"He can be really good. He can be better than me. I think he's capable of that. If he keeps working with my dad and do everything he's been doing, he can be an NBA player."