SAN JOSE -- One of the nation's top basketball prospects sat on the carpeted staircase of his home, staring at his cellphone. Aaron Gordon scrolled through voice mails and text messages.
Kansas coach Bill Self had tried to reach him. So did a Kentucky assistant. The phone buzzes softly. It's a coach from Arizona.
"Lorenzo called me today," said Shelly Davis Gordon, his mother, referring to Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. "He said, 'Aaron's not taking my calls' and wanted to know what was up."
Aaron glanced up with a weary expression.
"I'm taking a phone break today," he said.
Gordon, depending on which recruiting expert you believe, is either the sixth- or seventh-best high school player in the country. At 6 feet 8, he is a combination of size, skill and will to win. He is expected to someday draw an NBA paycheck.
Colleges want Gordon -- badly. Perhaps the best player to ever emerge from the South Bay, he has powered Archbishop Mitty to two consecutive state Division II titles. He helped his AAU team, the Oakland Soldiers, to a title in the prestigious Nike Peach Jam tournament in July. YouTube features highlight reels of his rim-rattling dunks.
Add in his polished demeanor and ready smile, and it's easy to understand why about 50 leading college basketball programs expressed interest.
"Wherever we go, everybody is talking about Aaron," said Mark Olivier, the Oakland Soldiers executive director. "But the great
As his Mitty classmates have polished college application essays, Aaron has been besieged by universities begging him to come to their school. While he gave consideration to Cal, he has pared his choices, in no particular order, to: Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, Washington and defending national champion Kentucky.
"It's pretty strange when you step back and think about it," his mother said. "It's a weird way to grow up. He just turned 17 and yet everything about his life is so public."
John Calipari, the man known as "Coach Cal" who has made Kentucky the country's hottest program, came to the Gordon home and posed for photos with neighborhood kids. Schools do their best to impress Aaron on recruiting visits. Reporters want to know if he's "leaning" anywhere and fans speculate about his future on social media.
While that may seem glamorous, it's also exhausting for the whole family.
"Playing basketball is fun, and that's what gets you to this point," Gordon said. "But the actual recruiting is not fun. A lot of people want to put their hands on my decision. But it's not theirs. It's mine."
Added Gordon's father, Ed: "We're certainly not rushing him. But yes, we're ready to have this be over."
Programs apply the full-court press on rare teenagers like Gordon because major-college athletics is big business. An elite player can mean more victories, which translates into increased revenue through NCAA Tournament berths, exposure and increased merchandise and ticket sales.
That explains all the envelopes of letters from colleges that are stapled along the walls of his bedroom.
Many were never opened.
"At first it was cool because I thought, 'All these schools know who I am,' " said Gordon, who started receiving them as a sophomore. "But they always say the same thing. 'Congratulations on your basketball success. We think of you as a highly recruited and talented player. We would like you to think about such-and-such school.' "
Hard to say no
The Gordons are a basketball family. Father Ed, a math and physical education teacher at Sylvandale Middle School, played at San Diego State in the early 1980s. Oldest son Drew is playing professionally in Serbia after not being selected in the June NBA draft. Daughter Elise is on the Harvard team.
Mother Shelly, a senior technical manager with the semiconductor company Altera, jokes that she played "in the computer lab." But she has the key role in helping Aaron navigate the process after learning from Drew's experience.
"We allowed that to become an absolute circus," she said. "We had a hard time saying no. So there were days when they were lining up chairs in the Mitty gym because there were so many college coaches there to watch practice."
Drew signed with UCLA, but he clashed with coach Ben Howland. He transferred to New Mexico and led the Lobos to the NCAA Tournament.
"We've seen the best of it and the worst of it," Shelly said. "We listen to what the coaches tell us, but the reality is they're going to do what they want with your kid."
Aaron tries not to be dazzled by the glitz.
"You can kind of tell when someone almost sounds like a car salesman," he said. "You're always going to hear a coach say, 'This is the best school for you and you should come here.' You listen to hear if they really know me as a player."
Gordon, who has a 2.9 grade-point average, wants to play one year in college -- or two at the most -- and then jump to the NBA, with the intent of going back to finish his degree.
"Maybe it is kind of naive of me to say that academics really doesn't factor in all that much," he said, "but I want to play basketball for my career."
In recent weeks, as other leading recruits have chosen schools, speculation about Gordon's decision has become an obsession.
No decision yet
Some see him a lock for Washington because Ed grew up in the same Los Angeles neighborhood as Romar, the Huskies coach. Others believe Arizona has the edge with two former Soldiers already there. Or Kentucky is a sure thing because of Calipari's knack for producing NBA players.
"You would think people are living under our kitchen table with everything you read," Shelly said.
Here's the reality: Aaron just doesn't know yet.
"I start the day waking up and thinking about one school as a front-runner," he said. "And then through the course of the day I'll talk to friends and people who I respect, and chances are my rankings will change."
Although he can sign a letter of intent starting Nov. 14, when a weeklong window opens, he plans to make colleges wait as he takes more time. His last college visit is Nov. 9 to 11, at Kentucky, and his mother wonders if he might decide sooner.
For now, his sanctuary from the sales pitches is the court. He can't hear his phone when he's playing.
Back home, though, he was shaking his head at that cellphone. He ignored an incoming call.
"No, I just can't take that right now," he said quietly. "Just can't."
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.
Oakland Soldiers AAU executive director Mark Olivier says about 50 colleges actively tried to recruit Gordon.
Gordon reduced his five final choices this summer to: Arizona, Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky and Washington.
Among the other schools he had strongly considered: Cal and Stanford.
Two colleges that made late, futile attempts to court Gordon: North Carolina and Syracuse.
The one-week window to sign a national letter of intent opens Nov. 14. But Gordon has indicated that he is in no hurry to make a decision, which means while he could make an oral commitment at any time. He would not be able to sign a binding letter until April.