These past two years for Arizona Basketball have been pretty enjoyable. Back-to-back Pac-12 Championships, Elite 8 appearances, and two of the most talented rosters in all of college basketball. Both lineups featured prized freshmen with Aaron Gordon in 2013-2014 and Stanley Johnson in 2014-2015. Both spent one year at Arizona, eventually declaring for the NBA Draft. So now, we try and decide who the better one-and-done freshman was for Arizona.
Before we get started, a lot of people are going to say they both should have stayed, but that's just not the nature of college basketball now. General Managers prize these 18-year-old kids with such raw talent.
The next thing that needs to be mentioned when discussing success is Aaron Gordon's hype that surrounded him prior to him stepping foot on campus. Ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the nation, he is Sean Miller's most-coveted recruit.
Stanley Johnson was also ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the nation in a much more talented recruiting class, but just didn't have the same level of excitement as Aaron Gordon. It was Gordon's pure athleticism that always kept you on your toes, waiting for the next highlight reel play.
With that aside, we'll look at their contributions on the court. Both played 38 games in their career at Arizona, but in 2013-2014, the team faced a much more rigorous schedule, finishing the season ranked 5th in strength of schedule. In 2014-2015, the strength of schedule took a hit, finishing 38th. Will all of that in mind, we'll take a look at some stats.
Per game, you could expect Aaron Gordon to finish with 12 points, eight rebounds, a few assists and a block. There typically wasn't a whole lot of fluctuation in his game night in and night out.
But Aaron Gordon started to breakout once Brandon Ashley went down. He was able to move freely from the 3-5 spots and still change the game. Now, having Nick Johnson and a healthy Brandon Ashley on both sides of you in the lineup is a nightmare for opposing teams. Coaches would pretty much have to pick which ones they'll focus on and hope that the others don't go off on them.
Some might think differently, but it might be fair to say that Aaron Gordon lived up to his hype coming into college. Although, you could also say there was less pressure on Gordon to score and take games over, with Nick Johnson being the heart and soul of the team.
Despite his position and role uncertainty, he really emerged as one of the best players in college basketball, eventually rising up to the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, albeit in a weaker draft class.
Stanley Johnson was good for 14 points, seven rebounds, and a few assists and steals on a per game basis. But it was his versatility that helped Arizona. At 6-7 240lbs, Johnson is a rare specimen, able to guard 1-4. He could score, go up and grab a rebound, play defense (when he wants to) and match anyone on the court in speed and athleticism.
There were times where he completely took over the game and was an unstoppable wrecking ball. But then you remember his games where he shot below 30% and just lost control. Yet, even on his worst nights, he still managed to get to the basket and finish with double-digit scoring figures.
Strange to say, but Stanley Johnson's continual shooting is exactly what Arizona needed this year, a shooter who didn't lose confidence on a team that didn't have a go-to scorer like Nick Johnson. Gabe York also served as this fearless shooter beyond the arc and become a pivotal piece to the success of the team, but Stanley Johnson's scoring abilities were second to none.
As the No. 3 recruit in his recruiting class, Stanley Johnson faces a much deeper draft class. Many people have him sliding to No. 8 or 9 in the draft, but those experts also had Aaron Gordon going around the same position as well.
Both had their growing pains and frustrations. Aaron Gordon shot 42.2% at the free throw line, meanwhile Stanley Johnson just made some head-scratching moves, trying to do way too much at times.
Aaron had so many plays that changed the momentum of the game, in a much tougher schedule. Might be a stretch, but the 2013-2014 team, even without Brandon Ashley, was better than the team this past season.
Yes, we saw great improvements from T.J. McConnell, Gabe York and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson this past season, but the way the team flowed on the floor opened up the game for everyone else during Gordon's freshman year. And of course, consensus All-American, Tucson's golden boy, Nick Johnson.
Stanley Johnson's size and athletic ability allowed him to go 1-4 with no problem. He was able to take a game over and put on a show, but Aaron Gordon was a complete game-changer no matter where he was on the court and had the ability to swing the momentum at any given time. Both will be among the greatest players in Arizona history, but given the circumstances, Aaron Gordon was the better freshman for Arizona. Not to diminish Stanley Johnson's talent, but Gordon just had that game-changing ability to turn things around or just give the opponent no chance of coming back.
Agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think in the comments below.