October 24, 2007

Gordon's switch should impact Big Ten race

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Born on Christmas 1988, Eric Gordon brings good cheer to Indiana and humbugs to Illinois.

Lacking an outright Big Ten title in 14 years, the Hoosiers will hope for a Kevin Durant-like boost from the jewel of their recruiting class in 2007-08. But along with his glut of skills on both sides of the court, Gordon brings with him one of the biggest subplots in the Big Ten.

Just imagine if Durant spent nearly a year committed to Oklahoma, but he and Texas coaches kept lines of communication open nevertheless. Then, about three weeks before Signing Day, Durant told Oklahoma coaches, "Sorry, but I've changed my mind. I'm going to Texas."

There's no need to imagine that scenario this season when Gordon, who like Durant is the second-ranked player in his class, will play his home games in Assembly Hall (in Bloomington) rather than Assembly Hall (in Champaign).

Every time Gordon dazzles the Indiana crowd, Illinois fans couldn't be blamed for grumbling.

He could have done the same for the Illini. Gordon committed to Bruce Weber in November 2005. But that was before Indiana hired Kelvin Sampson to replace Mike Davis, in March 2006.

The new coaching staff continued to recruit Gordon, who went to high school in their backyard at Indianapolis North Central. In the meantime, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound guard continued to build his stock as he lit up the AAU circuit during the summer. Sampson also hired former Missouri assistant Jeff Meyer, who had ties with Gordon's family since his days at Liberty.

On Oct. 13, 2006, only 26 days before the early signing period, reports indicated Gordon had changed his mind. Instead of being the first super-recruit for Weber at Illinois, Gordon would be the most anticipated freshman to play for Indiana in years.

"It's almost as bad as losing a guy to the NBA Draft," Weber said at the time.

Illinois fans will let Gordon know exactly how they feel about the switch on Feb. 7, when Indiana plays in Champaign. Illinois already booed Sampson unmercifully when the Hoosiers played there in a 51-43 loss in January. The sellout crowd booed Sampson during pregame warmups, during his introduction, during his halftime interview with ESPN and during his return to the court in the second half.

By the time Gordon plays in Champaign, though, he already could be part way to writing his legacy in what probably will be a brief stay at Indiana.

Gordon is slated to slip into the lineup with three returning starters, including senior forward D.J. White and point guard Armon Bassett. Though Sampson will try to keep excess attention off Gordon by keeping all true freshmen off limits to the media (at least for now), Gordon's impact should be immediate. In the process, Gordon's first season at Indiana could receive more national attention than Durant's one season at Texas.

No state is as defined by basketball quite like Indiana, even when its most storied program has been under the radar. The Hoosiers won their last national title 21 months before Gordon was born. Their last outright Big Ten title was in 1993. Their last Final Four appearance, and their only one in 15 seasons, was in 2002.

Despite his youth, Gordon could put Indiana in position to challenge some of those droughts.

"Eric is talented and I don't expect him to be a freshman at any point," Sampson said.

If Durant and Gordon are to be compared in their impact, they could be in their development as well.

Durant's 25.8 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game garnered much of the attention, but Texas coaches raved about Durant's improvement in other, less-noticed areas of his game.

Gordon could have the same potential.

"When he has got the ball in his hands, obviously, it is Fourth of July and Christmas morning. He is pretty good with that ball in his hands," Sampson said. "There is a whole world opening up to that young man about other areas of the game. He gets on the floor after loose balls, takes charges, defends, and he is only going to get better."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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