SAN JOSE, Calif. —
It was controlled chaos at its best in the basketball gymnasium at Archbishop Mitty (San Jose, Calif.)
and it sounded a lot like the ground floor of Wall Street — with some shoe sneaker squeak.
There were echoes of loud, unintelligible chatter being yelled — defensive communication — combined with whistles and bellowing instruction from four coaches, impossible for outsiders to follow or ascertain.
Some of the language was communicated quite clearly.
"Keep everything in front!"
"Don't be afraid of contact!"
"Keep it simple!"
"They're going to come after us!"
All at once — every 10 minutes or so — a buzzer went off and the 15 players, in a Pavlovian manner, sprinted straight to the middle of the floor to discuss that chunk of practice. Every huddle was finished with "Mitty Pride."
After one break, as the players branched off to shoot free throws, one teammate spoke up. And he wasn't smiling.
"We're going for the state championship Saturday," senior Aaron Gordon
yelled to no one in particular. "Let's get going."
Gordon stands out in this crowd — most any crowd — not only because he stands 6-foot-8 and is a lean and chiseled 225 pounds, but also because he's the face of the program and a McDonald's All-American. He will be one of the star attractions at Wednesday's 35th-annual showcase games in Chicago because he'll be fresh off committing to the University of Arizona in a Tuesday morning ceremony.
Kentucky, Oregon and Washington were the other three final candidates.
See Arizona's other commits
He's also the fifth-ranked recruit in the United States according to MaxPreps, a four-year starter who without a Division I recruit by his side had led the Monarchs to 112 wins to that point, two state, three regional and four section titles.
This was his penultimate practice in an illustrious prep career, two days before Mitty would take on perennial national power and two-time defending Division I state champion Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in the inaugural California Open Division title game at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. The Open Division was created just for this type of matchup, to pit two squads from different enrollment sizes, which would not normally meet, to battle for the state's ultimate prize.
But something besides the state title was on the line for Gordon — his high school legacy.
Video by Scott Hargrove/Chris Spoerl. Edited by Scott Hargrove
He's considered one of the greatest prep players to come out of the Bay Area and Northern California — mentioned in the same breath as Jason Kidd, Paul Silas and Bill Cartwright — and a win over Mater Dei would only improve his lofty status.
Mitty director of communication and girls soccer coach J.T. Hanley watched Kidd many times in high school. He worked right down the street. He said what Kidd had as a prep, Gordon has now. And it has nothing to do with athleticism.
"He's the smartest player I've seen since Jason Kidd," Hanley said. "He's like having another coach on the court. He's 17 going on 30 mentally. He's absolutely selfless. He just makes everyone better.
"You combine that kind of athlete with that kind of basketball IQ and you have one of the greatest ever."
Gordon, whose basketball idol is Magic Johnson and wears No. 32 because of it, can only hear so much of the comparisons.
"It's an honor to even be considered with any of those names," Gordon said. "But that's not why I play. I just play to win."