Had University of Arizona’s starting power forward Brandon Ashley not been forced to the sidelines with a broken foot, the Cats may have won it all last year. It was undeniable that all parts of the Wildcat unit worked together like magic, and each player was downright special. All members of the squad took on bigger roles in the wake of the Ashley injury, but the team seemed to lean mostly on the athletic ability of Aaron Gordon and the consistency of Nick Johnson. That leadership and promise did not go unnoticed, it would seem, as both Gordon and Johnson are currently packing their bags and shipping out to NBA teams.
The Orlando Magic selected Gordon with the fourth pick in the NBA Draft. The Magic have struggled since the departure of Dwight Howard, missing the playoffs two seasons in a row. But the 6’9 forward out of Arizona may help end that streak of disappointment. Gordon will be teamed up with two promising young stars in Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo, creating a dynamic trio of ever-improving centerpieces. Drawing comparisons to a young Shawn Marion, Gordon well team up especially well with Oladipo to create a nagging and athletic defensive duo. The Arizona alumnus was by far the brightest star when it came to athletic tests during the NBA combine, and it shows in his early selection. He will bring an up-tempo option to Orlando, with endless possibilities in fast breaks, basket-slashing, and explosive playmaking.
Look for Gordon to make an immediate impact on the Magic, especially on the defensive end. The 18-year-old can match up with almost any small forward in the league right now, can guard four positions, and with a few years of strength and conditioning, should be able to muscle around some of the bigger opposing players as well.
Arizona’s undisputed leader last season will soon be heading to Houston, as the Rockets selected Nick Johnson with the 42nd pick in the draft. Concerns have arisen pertaining to Johnson’s size. A 6’3 shooting guard is far to small to pose much of a threat in the NBA shark tank, which is full of bigger and badder predators than Bunnies. But Johnson has three attributes that will help him in his transition into the Rocket program: his maturity, his lockdown defense, and his freakish athleticism. Johnson will likely be used in limited quantity this season. His primary responsibility will be to give more experienced players a quick rest by coming onto the floor for a few short minutes, defending opposing point guards, and spreading the floor by hitting open shots. Yet it is Johnson’s athletic pedigree that makes him interesting. If he improves his shot off the dribble, embraces a tireless work ethic, adds 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, and keeps a good head on his shoulders, there is no reason why the former Pac 12 player of the year cannot mirror himself in the likeness of a young Dwyane Wade, who began his career as a 6’4 shooting guard with unparalleled athletic ability. Though Johnson may never impact an NBA team in the capacity that Wade has, the future Rocket certainly has the skill set to adopt Wade’s style of play.
Get used to hearing Wildcat names called on draft day year after year. If there is one thing head coach Sean Miller is better at than finding incredible young talent, it is developing that talent and preparing players for the professional stage. Gordon and Johnson are merely two of many future NBA basketball players who will always have roots that stretch deep down into the hardwood of McKale Center.