COLUMN: Eric Gordon: Will he wear orange and blue in 2007?

By Ian Gold

At age seventeen you swear the world is your oyster, and even if you actually believe you have the world figured out you can’t help but notice your seniors snickering.

Remember the day when you sat down with your parents to select a college; you sitting at a table in the dining room, brochures as far as the eye can see, mom’s hand on your left shoulder and dad’s on your right. And despite having your whole life in front of you, it’s inevitable to question whether you’re making the right choice. Now imagine that same room filled with 100 Division I-A basketball coaches. It just got a lot tougher, didn’t it? Finally, subtract 98 of those schools, so only Illinois’ Bruce Weber and Indiana’s Kelvin Sampson are waiting for your final word. This is Eric Gordon, being asked to sign his name while millions of Orange and Crimson clad fans peer over his shoulder.

By some accounts Gordon is the No. 1 rated basketball prospect in the class of 2007, an unbelievable achievement and equally heavy burden. I, like anyone who swore their allegiance to the Orange and Blue, desperately want Eric Gordon to follow in the Illini basketball tradition; but there are people just like you and me who cheer for the Crimson and Cream. It appears we do have one thing in common – we believe this 17-year old phenom is irreplaceable.

Indiana is the school with the National Championship banners hung, but of late it is their next-door neighbor who has become the Big Ten basketball power. It appears both schools are looking to this kid to make the difference. Indiana believes Gordon can return the school back to its status an elite basketball program; Illinois believes that Gordon will pick the Illini up from a return back to the middle of the pack. And what does Gordon think about all this?

“I still am really thinking about going to Illinois,” Gordon said. “I’m just giving IU a look. I’m just an Indiana kid who is thinking about Indiana. I’m still basically committed to Illinois.”

The mere question of “Where are you going?” puts the most honest, decisive and calculated recruit I have covered into a bind. Gordon committed to Illinois last fall but since the Hoosiers’ coaching change, Gordon has made it no secret that he is also interested in Indiana. While Illinois fans have been frustrated in the past by recruits jumping to “greener” pastures, Gordon seems to be the most upsetting. Unlike some other questionable characters, Gordon is not putting out his palm to anybody. From all accounts he is a great kid, and from my talks with him I have always been impressed with his understanding of the situation he is in. Lately, rumors have circulated about him and his ties to both schools.

“I probably talk to Illinois the most,” Gordon said. “I verbally committed there and I don’t want them to feel any different about me because I don’t feel any different about them. I’m still committed to them, and the coaching staff understands my situation.”

Gordon will still be visiting Illinois for homecoming and is considering coming back for Midnight Madness. But at the same time, Indiana remains appealing. And as much as my Illini-loving self hates to admit, the kid has a lot on his plate.

“Indiana was the place where I grew up and the team I always watched as a kid,” Gordon said. “With the new coaching staff in place, I know it would be better for the overall program if I went there.”

That’s not saying he is oblivious to his importance to Illinois, but as a child fan of the in-state school, the allure of being the centerpiece that sparked a renaissance is a very powerful consideration.

On the other hand, Gordon has always been impressed with Bruce Weber’s ability as a coach and firmly believes that if he puts on an Orange and Blue uniform he will be in the best position to maximize his potential.

When I last spoke to Gordon, the words “I’m still committed to Illinois” were commonly strung together. But just as common was “I’m an Indiana boy, and I am giving IU a look.”

Gordon says that he will have a decision looming pretty soon, maybe in the next few weeks. By now he admits that he is used to having people obsess over his thoughts, but in the end, the decision will be his own. Gordon intends to hear the last of the speculation on national signing day. He’s just ready to get it over with and enjoy a good senior year.

So what are we to assume? Absolutely nothing. Gordon is an honest kid who has no hidden agenda. Despite being the best basketball player to commit to Illinois in quite some time, we must remember he is still just a 17-year-old kid.

“When I talk to the coaches to give them my final decision, I’m just going to tell them how I feel,” Gordon said.

And as important as this one kid is to both programs, that’s really all we – the Illini or Hoosier nation – can ask.

Ian Gold is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]