Gordon takes final steps on court for ‘Pink Zone’

Chelsea Gordon stepped onto the Assembly Hall basketball court for the last time as a player Sunday, sporting a pink No. 33 jersey, pink shorts, pink shoes and a black knee brace extending all the way down to her ankle. It was set up to be an afternoon celebrating the final home game for the Illini’s lone senior, but unfortunately for Gordon, her final game took place Jan. 25, when she tore her ACL in a win against Big Ten-leading Indiana. However, that didn’t stop her from suiting up one last time with her teammates for the WBCA “Pink Zone” game to help raise breast cancer awareness in the Champaign-Urbana community.

Before the game she was slowly escorted to center court by her parents, John and Beverly, to receive a plaque along with a lengthy hug from Illinois head coach Jolette Law. As the announcer read Gordon’s career statistics and accolades, the emotion was overwhelming for the team’s most heralded defensive stopper.

“I didn’t feel like I was going to cry or anything. But you know, it kind of hits you at the end with that little paragraph they read about you,” Gordon said. “I just couldn’t believe it was going to be my last time in here on the Assembly Hall court.”

Gordon’s parents shared similar emotions with their youngest of three daughters, brushing away a tear or two on the walk to center court. John Gordon said he tried to take in as much of the atmosphere as he could.

“It was a real proud moment for me, really, because I remember when Chelsea first started playing basketball,” John said. “She always wanted to play for a big-time college basketball team. For her to make all four years was big. It’s unfortunate she couldn’t finish it the way she started it, but things happen.”

For Gordon, “things” rarely happened during her basketball career. She did not miss a single college game until this year when she went down with an ankle injury on Nov. 19 – a streak of 100 games. Two games after her ankle injury, she was back on the floor. John said even back in high school, the Erie, Pa., native would rarely, if ever, miss a game.

But when she went down on Jan. 25, the torn ACL in her right knee required surgery and about a six-month recovery period.

“She was pretty devastated when it first happened,” Beverly said. “When she got the news it was her ACL and she was done, that hit her kind of hard. But now she has adjusted and taken a different role on the team.”

That role, according to Law, is assistant coach. But Law wasn’t surprised that Gordon wanted to continue to serve in a key role for the team. As soon as Law joined the team at the beginning of the 2007-08 season, Gordon approached and asked what she needed to do on the court to help the team get to the next level.

“Normally you don’t have a kid walk into a situation and approach a coach and say, ‘What do I have to do to be a contributor or in order to help?'” Law said. “It was major. It gave me the utmost confidence in her. I told her I needed her to embrace defense and she said, ‘Coach, I can do that.’ I knew that when I watched her she had that fire and she took pride in her defense.”

Now Gordon is spreading the fire to her teammates. She is in huddles pumping up teammates, on the bench screaming out defensive instructions and at practice helping conduct drills.

Gordon said instructions coming from a player can sometimes hold more weight than when a coach yells them out. Simply put, she’s not ready to pack it in just yet.

“I don’t think my duties are over at all,” Gordon said. “I’m still going to be there as a senior leader. Even though I won’t be on the court, I still want to give them encouraging words from the bench. I want to help them keep fighting until the end.”

To Gordon’s teammates, saying her contributions to the team were noticeable over the years is a grand understatement. Junior Jenna Smith said she was impressed with Gordon from the moment she arrived on campus three year ago.

“She’s a great person to have fun with on and off the court,” Smith said. “I’m really going to miss her. She was our defensive specialist. I mean her wing span was just amazing. Seeing some of the scoops and shots she made … you would just wonder, ‘How did she get those off?'”

“I wish I could just take her basketball IQ with me,” Smith added.

After this season, Gordon said she plans to shift her focus toward graduate school with the goal of attaining her MBA. However, whatever she ends up doing in life will most likely revolve around sports.

Although Law and Gordon’s parents believe she has coaching in her blood, Gordon doesn’t know if she has the patience. But Law said Gordon’s charisma and knowledge of the game would make her an ideal candidate for a coaching position.

John said that no matter what exactly the future holds, he still expects great things out of all three of his daughters.

“Whatever (Chelsea) does, she’s got to be successful because I plan to work five more years and then she’s going to have to take care of me with her other two sisters,” he said with a laugh.

When Chelsea Gordon went out with a knee injury on Jan. 25, Illinois lost a key contributor. Here’s a look at her season-by-season stats.

2008-09

31.2 mpg

4.1 ppg

2.9 rpg

had played in 100 consecutive games before injuring her ankle on Nov. 19

2007-08

33.8 mpg

7.3 ppg

4.1 rpg

played in all 35 games, starting 34 of them

2006-07

28.9 mpg

7.9 ppg

3.7 rpg

started all 31 games

2005-06

13.2 mpg

3.3 ppg

1.5 rpg

played in all 31 games, starting one of them