The long anticipated dismantling of this season’s Arizona basketball team began last week when team leaders, Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, announced that they would be casting their fishing lines into the NBA Draft shark tank. Much criticism emerged among Arizona fans, as a public outcry circulated that highlighted a collective disapproval of the choice made by two of the Wildcats’ most exciting high flyers. The same Arizona basketball fans that had been touting these players all season began rhetoric of ridicule, making depreciating comments such as, “Aaron Gordon is too young”, “Aaron Gordon can’t shoot free throws”, or “Nick Johnson settles for bad shots”, and “Nick Johnson isn’t strong enough”. But if there is anything that sporting history has taught young athletes trying to make professional dreams come true, it is that opportunity is an impatient creature, and NBA hopefuls would be wise to declare for the draft when their stock is at a highpoint. In the world of basketball, it is not always about whether or not a player is fully “ready” for the NBA, but rather, is all about when the decision to go pro makes most sense (and dollars). In the case of Gordon and Johnson, hanging up the Arizona jerseys was just the right thing to do.
From the moment Aaron Gordon first placed an Arizona hat on his head and smiled wide the way any child about to enter the world of adulthood would, Wildcat fans could tell he was special. It was common knowledge that the then 17-year-old would be a shoe-in for the pros after his brief pit stop in Tucson. In fact, had it not been for the NBA’s recent requirement that high school basketball players spend at least one season in college, Gordon would likely have been playing on the world’s biggest stage this season. The athletic and ever improving forward is projected to be a top 10 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, guaranteeing a hefty income come payday. And though the young athlete would still benefit under the tutelage of a near perfect developmental coach such as Arizona’s Sean Miller, Gordon would be foolish to pass up such a promising prognostication from NBA scouts. His ceiling is immeasurable, but more optimistic annalists might compare the California native to a young Blake Griffin (who also dealt with free throw shooting woes in his early 20’s). Given this comparison and the fact that Gordon is as hard a worker as they come, the former Wildcat has much promise in claiming a place among the NBA’s most elite, and has made the correct decision to declare for the draft.
Though Nick Johnson was the undisputed go-to-guy on Arizona’s roster this past season, the junior guard is predicted to be selected in the late first round at best in this coming draft. This mid to late level selection window has nothing to do with his skill set, however. Instead, Johnson’s projection has everything to do with concerns about his size. At 6 foot 3, the natural shooting guard is extremely undersized for the average NBA player at his position. Talent wise, however, Johnson has little left to learn at Arizona. The team’s leading scorer showed vast improvement in each of his three seasons in red and blue, which is something that NBA teams hold in high regard come selection day. In this light, Johnson’s NBA stock was at its highest this season, where as a fourth year at Arizona would have run great risks of decreased improvement, injury, an early exit from the tournament, or double team defenses that may have effected scoring productivity. The gamble of staying on for a senior season simply offered greater risk than reward for Johnson, and he also made the correct decision by declaring for the NBA draft.
As die hard Arizona fans, it is easy to let emotions get the best of us, making harsh comments and secretly hoping that our own student athletes fall short of their dreams as a sort of repercussion of leaving school more early than we would like. This way of thinking is wrong. Our Arizona alumni should, above all else, consider their own futures, and head toward the NBA whenever it makes most sense for their own livelihood. It is the job of the fans to respect and support the decision of our athletes. After all, what makes Arizona basketball so special is that it is a player’s program, one that symbiotically finds its lifeblood in the unfailing and unwavering support of a noble fan base that wishes nothing but the best for those athletes who have played their hearts out for us all season, and chosen to ride gracefully into the always breathtaking Arizona sunset.