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NBA Draft 2014: A Tale of Two Failures

The NBA Draft is upon us, and while it's all about the future for draftees, the past can still loom large

Jed Jacobsohn

By now, Bruin fans are likely familiar with Arizona's Aaron Gordon, not only due to meeting the Wildcats twice during the season, but also as the brother of former Bruin Drew Gordon, who left Ben Howland's program under less than favorable circumstances. Tomorrow night, there is little doubt that Aaron will hear his name called early, definitely in the lottery, if not in the top five picks. Yahoo's Marc J. Spears goes into detail on how Aaron's journey to the NBA fortunately won't be anything like his brother's, when he went undrafted in 2012:

Aaron Gordon learned from his brother to do what's best for his future, make smart decisions and not try to appease everyone. Drew's rocky collegiate road included a high-profile signing with UCLA, clashes with then-coach Ben Howland and a transfer to New Mexico after two seasons in Los Angeles.

"It was an unfortunate situation I had to go through," Drew Gordon said. "[Aaron] saw how it affected me as a person. I told him to try to avoid all this and what to look out for when someone is trying to butt heads with you. I think he really took it to heart to avoid all situations that could be very damaging to his parents, his game and his career."

Ah, the "butting heads" thing. With the loss of some of his top assistants to smooth things over with players, "butting heads" became a lot more common. I don't think anyone at this point could argue how badly Howland got under the skin of his players, but that's not even the central issue when you bring in known volatile personalities like Gordon orReeves Nelson and you have no way of truly reeling them in. Drew Gordon's exit from UCLA at that point was probably inevitable, and he definitely had a hand in his own undoing in Westwood, but really the fate of he and people like him were really sealed when Howland brought them in instead of hardnosed, mature, workmanlike types like Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, and Alfred Aboya to name a few. This was just a preview of how Howland would fail, we just didn't know it at the time.

But wait, I said two failures, and I'm not counting Gordon? Who else plays a part in this sordid tale? Oh right, he transferred to New Mexico - (Alleged) Rape Apologist Rehab Central.

That heartbreaking draft night is a hard memory to shake for the Gordons. The family hosted a party in Drew's honor at a San Jose-area restaurant with many of their closest family and friends. Gordon averaged 13.7 points and 11.1 rebounds with the Lobos as a senior during the 2011-12 season while leading them to the NCAA tournament and a Mountain West Conference championship. The 2012 All-Mountain West Conference first-team selection was projected to be either a late first-round pick or a second-rounder.

But there wasn't much to celebrate as he went unselected through 60 picks.

I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone here who the "coach" of that team was, and yet it sets the stage perfectly for failure #2. Fair or not, there's a stigma out there that comes with being a college senior in the NBA Draft. The logic goes that if you had the chops to hang in the NBA, you would have come out at least by your junior year. Seniors only stay because they have no other choice. Whether you figure that argument has merit or not, those seniors that don't want to freefall in the draft order had better show vast improvement or be putting up eye popping numbers or carrying a team on their back. This is why you'll likely hear the names of Shabazz Napier and Doug McDermott amongst a swarm of underclassmen, including three of our own this year.

Drew Gordon's problem? He did none of those things. He was the same player as a senior that he was as a junior. Worse yet, he wasn't even much better than he was as a Sophomore, when he lasted just six games that season before transferring out. This wasn't a guy with no talent, yet all his measurable improvement as a basketball player came to a screeching halt after leaving Westwood. Yes, he was able to grab more rebounds in New Mexico, but for all the closing of the gap Mid Major conferences have achieved, the bigger, taller players still go to the major conferences, and it's only natural that what is an "average" 6'9" in the Pac 10 is more formidable in the Mountain West.

That stunted growth was all it took for 30 NBA teams to pass him over twice. A raw but talented player went to New Mexico and left without an NBA future. Suddenly Zach LaVine's decision makes a lot more sense. Even after ignoring the presence of the Nepotee, Drew Gordon could have been enough of a cautionary tale to get out of Failure #2's program and give him a shot at the big time.

Besides, if you're a similarly talented player like LaVine and Failure #2 pulls a miracle out of his rear and somehow does manage to get you to the NBA's doorstep, he'd just piss your family off enough for them to call him a "MotherF---er", and who needs that kind of aggravation?