BOULDER – After an early practice on Thursday morning, they will drive home to Colorado Springs, then split and savor Thanksgiving food and precious family time. It is a day to give thanks, but almost every day since a couple of springs ago, Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon have been especially thankful.
On Saturday, before family, friends and undoubtedly a large number of fans who remember their ferocious high school battles, Scott and Gordon will play at the Air Force Academy as University of Colorado teammates.
It wasn’t as if they collaborated in high school – Scott at Lewis-Palmer in Monument, Gordon at Colorado Springs Sierra – to form a package and sign national letters of intent to play for CU and coach Tad Boyle. Rather, the deal was largely unplanned and unspoken, formulated through meetings on the basketball court and nurtured when they crossed paths in their hometown.
Scott committed to first in the spring of 2011, Gordon about a week later. “I’m pretty sure he would have liked to commit first so he could say I was following him – that’s Wesley right there,” Scott said.
In the summer of their freshman years, they roomed together. The bond formed as high school rivals strengthened. “We’re real close now; he’s almost like my brother,” Gordon said.
On the court in high school, they had a down-low – it wasn’t low down – rivalry, with Scott standing 6-10 and Gordon 6-9. “I’ve said this multiple times,” noted Scott. “He’s won the war, something like four wins to my two wins, but I’ve won the battles.”
Scott smiled as he said it and Gordon didn’t dispute it. “Yeah, I guess you could say that,” Gordon said. “He scored more than I did, but my team won more games. Then, his senior year he got me twice.”
That’s past history. Now, it’s not about who gets whom or wins individual battles. “We got tired of playing against each other . . . tired of hearing the whole rivals stuff,” said Scott. “We realized how good it would be playing with each other.”
“But,” Gordon added, “I don’t think we ever talked about it until we signed.”
When that happened in November of 2011, Boyle wanted to carefully measure his in-state recruiting coup and see which of the C-Springs “bigs” might be ready to play as a freshman. Scott got the nod; Boyle still had 6-7 rebounding machine Andre Roberson for another season and decided that a redshirt season would benefit Gordon’s overall development.
Scott wasn’t thrilled; he and Gordon had waited a year to wear the same jerseys. And now that they were wearing them, another year would pass before they could wear them in a game together.
Said Scott: “I’m not a coach, but I wanted him to play last year.”
Which brings us to this year and Gordon’s emergence as a redshirt freshman and Scott’s resurgence as a bulked-up sophomore. Gordon, said Boyle, “has exceeded my expectations” in almost every area as a first-year player. “I’m very, very pleased with where he is.”
As a seven-game starter, Gordon is averaging 8.7 points and 6.6 rebounds. He’s also tops among the starters in field goal percentage (56.8) and has blocked a team-best nine shots.
Boyle’s “exceeding expectations” line is, well, lost on Gordon. But there’s a reason: “I didn’t know there were any expectations on me because nobody had seen me play before (at this level),” Gordon said. “All I’ve been trying to do is improve my game . . . I thought it was going to be way faster, people were going to be way more physical, things like that.
“I’ve adjusted well; I don’t think it’s too hard. What I saw sitting on the bench (last year) isn’t way different from what I’m seeing now. If I was thinking, ‘I can’t handle it,’ or ‘Man, he’s strong,’ then once you get out there, it’s not that different. Some guys I saw on TV were actually my size. So there’s not too much difference.”
Still, when Roberson declared himself eligible for last spring’s NBA Draft, Gordon was keenly aware that his role as a rebounder was suddenly underlined. “Yeah, I was expected to (rebound),” he said. “I was compared a lot to ‘Dre’ . . . yeah, there was some pressure there.”
Gordon has handled it, and from Scott’s perspective done rather well, too. “Wesley plays hard, rebounds,” he said. “I knew that was something he would help out with. ‘Dre’ was 6-7, 210. I was 6-10, 215 . . . we were kind of skinny, smaller frontcourt guys. Wesley is maybe 6-9 and about 225-230. He adds some muscle on the front line. He’s athletic and a longer person. ‘Dre’ was awesome defensively, but down low Wesley has really helped out . . . I always knew he was going to be great when he got in.”
About 20 pounds heavier this season than last, Scott is more of a low post load. At 245 or thereabouts, he’s finishing through contact, has more stamina, and is playing more confidently than he did as a freshman, according to Boyle. Scott already has been more of a physical presence in the non-conference season and should be that much more comfortable in his new body by the time Pac-12 Conference play starts in January.
To get to his current weight, Scott estimated his daily calorie intake increased to “between 3,000 and 4,000” and that he routinely “got tired of eating.” He also said he consumed “a crazy amount of protein shakes” and spent an excessive amount of time with basketball strength and conditioning coach James Hardy.
The whole “ordeal” is paying off. He’s leading the Buffs in rebounding (8.3) and is second in scoring (12.6). Coupled with Gordon’s rebounding average, the C-Springs twosome is accounting for almost 15 of the Buffs’ 39.7 boards a game.
And that they’re finally doing it as a twosome on the same team makes it all the more special, as is finally playing together in their hometown on Saturday.
“It means a lot; it’s kind of what we were planning for,” Scott said. “We’ve played really well together so far this year. It’s going to be beyond cool playing with each other down in the Springs. Everyone will remember us as rivals down there. Now it’s going to be fun playing with each other.”
Added Gordon: “It’s real special. They’re so used to us playing against each other, no one’s really seen us playing with each other. It’s going to be real special . . . I know he’s a great low post player and I’m a low post passer. We complement each other really well offensively.”
The bonus for both is spending Thanksgiving and most of Friday with their families before reconnecting with their teammates for an afternoon practice at AFA’s Clune Arena. “I’m pretty pumped,” said Scott.
It’s a Thanksgiving to remember for him and his Colorado Springs sidekick. Their goal is to make their first basketball season as teammates even more memorable.