SAN JOSE, Calif. —
It wasn't a perfect practice for the Archbishop Mitty (San Jose)
basketball team, nor star player Aaron Gordon
He mishandled a few passes and generally had trouble hanging on to the ball with the authority he's used to.
So, after practice, as a camera crew waited to interview him, Gordon, the 6-foot-8 manchild ranked the fifth-best senior in the country, dribbled two balls up and down the court and then took jumper after jumper.
In an amazing display of hops and stamina, he stood under the hoop, skied up and dunked it from a standing start, then catching the ball through the net. He did this continuously 15 or 20 times.
"Ten more minutes Aaron," Mitty coach Tim Kennedy barked at Gordon. "That's it."
Kennedy wasn't shooing Gordon off to please the media types. "I don't want him wearing down on Saturday," he said. "The kid is amazing. He always wants to get better."
Ah, Saturday. When Gordon's illustrious prep career comes to a halt.
If Gordon, who averages 22.4 points, 16.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game, is to finish it at the very top, he and his Mitty teammates have one very steep mountain to climb. Fittingly, it is probably the steepest for Gordon, who many consider the finest high school basketball player in Bay Area history. Possibly Northern California.
Mitty, the two-time defending state Division II champions, take on two-time defending Division I state champions Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
in the first CIF Open Division finals at 8 p.m. Saturday at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Gordon, long, lean and chiseled, owns guard skills and has dominated the last two state title games with a combined 50 points and 41 rebounds. But Saturday he'll face a program that features the state's winningest coach (Gary McKnight), a program that has won a record nine state titles and a player, Stanley Johnson
, many consider his equal.
See the MaxPreps California boys title game previews
Most burning of all to Gordon is that Mater Dei defeated Mitty for the state Division II championship back-to-back years starting in 2006. Gordon's brother Drew was on both those teams and the siblings are extremely close.
"This is the perfect ending," Gordon said after practice Thursday. "I couldn't imagine it any other way. It's Mater Dei, they beat Mitty two years in a row a while back and we're both two-time defending state champions.
"After this game, there won't be any questions."
Of all the storylines that burn Gordon the deepest, is the fact Mater Dei ended his brother's career with a bitter defeat. Gordon is a fierce competitor and devoted to his family.
So much so, he'll likely pick a school out west — Arizona, Washington or Oregon — instead of his other finalist Kentucky, which is too far from home.
He'll announce his college choice at the McDonald's All-American Game in two weeks.
"That (beating Drew) is definitely a motivating factor," Gordon said. "I was there. My whole family was there and it made for a long ride home. We all hate to lose."
To beat Mater Dei, Mitty and Gordon will need to contain Johnson, a 6-7 guard considered one of the top three juniors in the country. Johnson and Gordon played together on the Oakland Soldiers last summer.
They'll likely guard each other on Saturday. Last week, Gordon locked up Sheldon-Sacramento's high-scoring 6-4 guard Darin Johnson and held him without a field goal and six points. Stanley Johnson is three inches taller and much beefier. He's Mater Dei's leading scorer (19.2 per game) and rebounder (8.7).
"He's really good in all aspects," Gordon said of Stanley Johnson. "He's such a big guard and has a really good jumper. He's a great rebounder. He's a big challenge."
Said Kennedy: "(Stanley Johnson) has a motor like Aaron. He can shoot the 3 and he's an animal on the boards. He's a tough matchup."
McKnight said of Gordon, who had 29 points and 22 rebounds in Saturday's 70-50 regional final win over Sheldon: "He's as talented a player I've seen at this level. He'll be in the NBA in a few years. He's that good."
McKnight caught his words when he thought of his own super prep, who scored 25 in Mater Dei's regional championship win
. "But I wouldn't trade Stanley Johnson for anyone."
Mater Dei (33-2) has plenty more weapons to utilize. Shooting guard Elijah Brown
averages 17.5 points per game and is the son of former NBA coach Mike Brown. "He's improved more than any player on our team," McKnight said. "He's come up big in our biggest games."
It's helped that Mike Brown attends every one of Mater Dei's practices. "He never says a word unless we ask him," McKnight said. "And lately we've been leaning on him more and more. ... I think it was sort of a blessing what happened to him (with the Lakers). I wish I could be paid $3.5 million to watch my son play basketball."
Much like Mitty, which had to replace four starters from last year, Mater Dei had to replace three Division I players.
"For once we came in as the underdog," McKnight said. "I'm really proud of these guys."
As is Gordon of his team after it got blitzed by Lone Peak (Utah) 81-46 on Jan. 18 on national television. Granted Lone Peak has turned out to be the No. 1 team in the country, but 35 points?
"We weren't all bought in at that point," Gordon said. "Once that got exposed and realized what we had to do we put it back together. Now we've taken it as far as we can. Let's see what happens."