Drew Gordon was sitting in a University of New Mexico classroom in February, but he wasn't paying attention to a family studies lecture about how to help people in crisis. He was reading in amazement a Sports Illustrated article that was about to turn his life upside down.
The story was a devastating portrait of how hard-partying, selfish players had helped drop the mighty UCLA program from the ranks of college basketball's elite.
Gordon kept seeing his name.
"It was a nice little bomb dropped on me in the middle of class," Gordon, a product of Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, said last week. "That's a magazine that pretty much every sports junkie in the country reads, and it really shed a bad light on me. It made my last months in college interesting."
But there is another Gordon from the one depicted as a temperamental athlete who clashed with Bruins coach Ben Howland. This Gordon had two stellar, controversy-free seasons after transferring to New Mexico. He also crammed 41 credit hours into his senior year so he could graduate on time this month.
Yet as he visits with NBA teams in advance of the June 28 draft, including the Warriors on Wednesday, questions will be asked about The Article.
"It will come up," said one prominent NBA scout. "Teams will be doing their background work to find out what the problem was there."
That's OK with Gordon.
"Once people get a sense of my character and have a chance to see how I really act, they'll realize that the impression of that article is not accurate," he said.
Then Gordon laughed.
"But I'll give them this: It sure was an entertaining read," he added.
The 6-foot-9 Gordon, one of the best players to emerge from the South Bay in decades, arrived at UCLA in 2008 as part of the nation's No. 1-rated recruiting class. Howland had awakened John Wooden's legendary dynasty as the Bruins posted three consecutive Final Four appearances.
But the program suddenly turned toxic just as Gordon arrived. The Bruins, according to Sports Illustrated, were undone by a lack of discipline as two consecutive classes of high-profile recruits were allowed to revel in being Big Men on Campus and wouldn't buy into a team concept. Gordon was described as someone who often disrupted practices, "was very emotional and reacted harshly whenever criticized," and got a black eye from an off-court fight with teammate Reeves Nelson.
Gordon, speaking in general terms, claims that is an embellishment.
"We were freshmen, and we weren't getting much playing time," Gordon said. "So we did take advantage of the college life and make some ill-advised decisions. But when I read that article, there was so much negativity there. It was hurtful."
It was worse from a mother's perspective.
"I'm trying hard as a mom to let that stuff roll off my back, but it's not easy," said Shelly Davis, a senior manager of technical communications with the semiconductor Altera Corporation in Silicon Valley. "Drew was only 17 when he went to college. And in that situation, he was not reacting well. The coaches were not reacting well. There were times when I wondered when anybody was going to act like an adult. Then the players acted out. It wasn't a real healthy situation."
Gordon can be emotional on the court. His mother calls it an "ice-hockey mentality," which should be no surprise, considering that was his first sport. He turned to basketball only after outgrowing skates and suffering a series of concussions.
But even now, Gordon is careful not to speak ill of Howland.
"There are people who you just butt heads with, and I'm sure everyone reading this can relate to that in their own lives," he said. "It's not about someone being right or someone being wrong. It's just a difference of personalities and opinions."
He left the team in December 2009 and quickly landed in New Mexico. It was in Albuquerque where Gordon began to understand how much of a hit his reputation had taken.
"When I first transferred, I had people tell me that they were expecting some thug from the Bay Area and that I was going to have this attitude," he said. "But what I've learned the last few years is that it's not worth getting all worked up over what people might think and just try to show them who you really are."
He quickly became a fan favorite at the Pit, New Mexico's raucous arena. Last season the power forward averaged 13.7 points and 11.1 rebounds and was named the Mountain West Conference tournament MVP. He led the Lobos to a 28-7 record and into the NCAA tournament's second round.
"All I know is he's been a great player, an incredible person and a great teammate for us," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said earlier this year. " ... He's done everything we asked him to do."
Gordon, whose sister Elise plays at Harvard and brother Aaron is one of the nation's top high school recruits, knows he has much to do in order to impress NBA teams. Most mock drafts have him going in the second round, citing the need for Gordon to work on his post-up game and midrange jumper.
"He's not the kind of player who you're going to get really excited about and jump up in the first round to grab," said the NBA scout, who was granted anonymity. "But he's probably a second-round pick who could improve and maybe help you down the line. He's worth thinking about."
And, the scout added, there are those lingering questions about UCLA.
Gordon has his answers ready.
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.