Tipoff: University of Southern Indiana at Indiana (exhibition), 7:30 p.m., Saturday
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BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's Evan Gordon knows the score. Family bragging rights are cool, even if they're only temporary. Today's victory can be tomorrow's defeat.
Gordon recently beat an NBA star in 1-on-1. Yes, it was older brother Eric, who is battling back from a knee injury. Sure, it's an infrequent occurrence, but let's not downplay the accomplishment.
Mediocre players don't beat pros – ever.
“He acted nonchalant,” Evan says. “I know it hurt his feelings. He's still rehabbing his knee, but he's getting a lot better. I tried to take advantage of him not being able to make as fast as he normally can.”
One thing stayed normal.
“He definitely fouls the same way,” Evan says with a smile.
Eric Gordon once starred at IU. He was an All-America as a freshman before leaving for NBA opportunity in 2008. Now Evan is in Bloomington for his own one-year run, the consequence of being a fifth-year senior transfer after stops at Liberty and Arizona State. Working out with an NBA player, even one at less than 100 percent, is sure to pay off.
“He's a good defender,” Evan says. “He'll probably be the toughest defender I see. It's just a lot different when he guards you.”
Gordon arrived at Indiana to be a difference-maker, and it starts with his uniform. He wears No. 10 as a sign of respect to his grandmother, who told all her basketball-playing grand kids to have a biblical reason for their numbers. Gordon picked 10 to represent the Ten Commandments.
Symbolism is fine, but it's results that count. Gordon figures to deliver, and if it's not at Eric's level (he averaged a Big Ten-leading 20.9 points and earned All-America honors), that's not the point. Evan is a veteran presence on a youthful Hoosier squad that will need it.
“He brings so much leadership and experience,” senior swingman Will Sheehey says. “He's played in big games, played at a big school. He knows what big-time college basketball is about. He'll help not just on the court, but off it. He'll help make sure the freshmen know what they're doing.”
Gordon is a three-year double-figure college scorer, doing it twice at Liberty (with a high of 14.4 points) and once at Arizona State. He's scored 1,186 points. He's played in big games, and produced big numbers, last year scoring 29 points against Sacramento State and 28 against USC.
He put up those numbers despite inconsistent shooting. He's worked on that since arriving in Bloomington last summer. His extra time includes shooting contests with teammates. He says he beats all of them except for Sheehey.
“My shooting percentage has increased. Being pushed in my shooting has been the biggest key in coming here. We have shooting contests and I'm the No. 2 seed behind Will. I can't beat him. I'm close, but I can't beat him.”
IU coach Tom Crean wants more than shooting from Gordon.
“He has to take his game to another level. He's got to see his game rise on both sides of the court, offensively and defensively, and see that leadership rise. He's got to get out of whatever comfort zone has been acceptable, and step above and beyond it.
“He's got to bring a pit bull, junkyard-dog mentality daily. He's got to bring people with him. That's one of the biggest things that will show if he's going to have that kind of (special) year. He's a great young man; he works hard; he comes from a great family; he spends a lot of time at the game, but he can be more.”
IU needs more if it is to sustain the success from consecutive Sweet 16 appearances and last year's Big Ten championship. The Hoosiers' six freshmen are strong in talent, limited in experience. Gordon is expected to help lead them despite his own lack of Cream and Crimson years.
“There's pressure because we're the defending Big Ten champs and Coach Crean expects a lot from us early,” Gordon says. “He looks at me for leadership. It's hard to put playing and leading together because I'm trying to figure out my way. I'm doing things in drills and practice I've never done before.”
Family basketball tradition helps. Besides Eric, their father, Eric Sr., scored 1,154 career points at Liberty. Youngest brother Eron, a sophomore at Indianapolis North Central and one of the nation's top recruiting prospects, had scholarship offers from IU and Purdue while he was still an eighth-grader.
Does all that family success create a burden?
“That's put pressure on me my whole life, but just playing here puts pressure on you. Here the spotlight is brighter than it's ever been for me. Basketball wise the coaches push harder. Workouts and practices are harder.”
Gordon is fine with that. It's among the reasons why he came to Indiana. He says he's always had a “deep love for IU” and that, “I do wish I could have started here and stayed all four years.”
For Gordon, it's not where you start, but where you finish.