It is to be expected that the former coaches of Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton would be signing the praises of their former charges. The praise though from Arizona coach Sean Miller and United States U19 coach Billy Donovan were effusive. Both believe Gordon and Payton will help set a cultural tone for the Magic and be great additions to this team.
Sean Miller was on Tuck & O’Neill on 1080AM Sports Talk Florida in Orlando and spoke highly about Gordon and his work ethic.
“Aaron is a once in a lifetime player for any college coach. We were fortunate enough to have him as a part of what we’re doing. I think the thing you will find with Aaron, even though he is very young — just 18 and a half years old — his greatest strength isn’t what he does on the court, but who he is in the locker room. It’s the work ethic that he establishes, not only for himself but for it’s contagious. his teammates follow him.
At every level that he has played whether it was USA basketball at the under 19 world championships last summer where he was the MVP and won a gold medal or at Archbishop Mitty High School in the state of California where he won multiple state championships. And obviously at Arizona last year, a big reason we were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament is Aaron is such a team-centered guy, such a smart individual, has an incredible work ethic.
It’s all those things that you get in addition to the athletic talent and what he brings on the basketball court. I think that organization and the city of Orlando in no time will fall in love with him just as every city and place and team he has been a part of has.”
In talking about Gordon, both Rob Hennigan and Jacque Vaughn spoke about his work ethic and his drive to improve. That has been a hallmark of the conversation around Gordon. Gordon spoke about it too in his introductory comments both Thursday and Friday.
This sentiment was echoed when Billy Donovan spoke to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel about his experience coaching both Gordon and Payton at the FIBA U19 World Championships last summer in Prague:
“I think the Magic, in terms of the culture with those two guys, really hit two home runs in the draft, because those two kids are the kind of kids that can change the culture in terms of just their energy, their disposition, their attitude, their work ethic, their competitiveness.
You can evaluate Elfrid’s statistics or you can measure Aaron Gordon’s vertical leap. But it’s really, really hard to evaluate the intangible things. Both of those two guys have incredible intangibles.”
Again, Donovan cites the intangibles and locker room qualities from Gordon and Payton as what stood out to him. If the Magic are continuing to build their culture and identity as an organization, Donovan clearly believes they picked the two right players.
Payton’s hunger to win, too, was pretty evident in his three years at Louisiana-Lafayette. Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin of The New Orleans Times-Picayune described how Payton worked hard to get the invite to the USA U19 team and how hard he took the loss to Middle Tennessee State in the Sun Belt tournament as a sophomore. It drove him to put in a stellar junior year:
“After the press conference, I saw him in the locker room and he had his hoodie on. It was just the two of us and I went up to him. He told me, ‘Coach, this is on me. I won’t let this happen again.’”
Payton became a top-10 pick the following year. A pretty incredible story.
As for Roy Devyn Marble, the Magic’s second round pick, he is a all-around solid player. He became Iowa’s first draft pick since Adam Haluska in 2007. He gave my Northwestern Wildcats nightmares every time they faced off.
Marble is a streaky shooter. His coach, Fran McCaffery, thinks he will be a good fit on the wing for the Magic. A Big Ten source of mine also agreed, saying Marble is good at a lot of things, but not great at any one thing. He should be a good option off the bench at the very least.
All three of the Magic’s players were clear leaders on their teams and that is another thing the Magic have to like. Obviously, they all came with high regards from their previous coaches.