Gordon lives up to hype in first start for WKU

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon led WKU with 25 points on Friday in his college debut. The Toppers lost 72-61 to St. Joseph’s.

Cole Claybourn

Freshman guard Derrick Gordon came to WKU with arguably the highest expectations of any recruit in school history.

After what was deemed a “reset” for the basketball program, starting with this season, Gordon was looked at as the player who would be instrumental in getting WKU back to consistent success.

If his first game as a Topper is any indication of how his career will go, he’s well on his way to doing that.

Gordon led all scorers in WKU’s season-opener against St. Joseph’s on Friday with 25 points. He also pulled down eight rebounds and dished out three assists and had one steal.

Head Coach Ken McDonald compared Gordon to NBA star Kevin Durant, who he coached as a freshman when he was an assistant at Texas.

“Kevin Durant didn’t play defense like Derrick, to be honest,” McDonald said. “I love the fact that Derrick plays both sides of the ball. I think he wants to guard the best player on the other team. 

“He’s so physical, he’s got long arms, he’s active, and he’s aggressive. He’s got great instincts.”

McDonald praised Gordon’s “scoring mentality” as well.

Gordon’s 25 points were the most from any WKU freshman in his first career game. Sixteen of his points came from the free throw line, where he went 16 of 18. 

His ability to get to the free throw line impressed McDonald, who said he doesn’t remember a time when a freshman shot that many free throws in a game.

Gordon said he puts a lot of pride in his free throw shooting.

“I shoot a lot of free throws a day because I know I’m going to get to the free throw line a lot,” he said. “It’s all about confidence.”

But anytime a question was directed toward Gordon and his play, he was quick to turn the attention to the team. 

It didn’t matter to him what his stats were because at the end of the day, the team lost.

“It’s just not going to be one player doing it. It’s got to be the whole team to win,” Gordon said. “We could’ve had a lot more assists than we had (Friday). It’s just gonna take a total team effort to win games.”

The loss stung especially hard for Gordon, who comes from a high school program that’s not accustomed to losing many games.

His St. Patrick (N.J.) team was ranked No. 1 for the majority of his senior season, losing only to the nation’s No. 2 team, in-state rival St. Anthony, in the mythical national championship game.

Gordon’s frustration was visible as he walked off the court slowly with his head down after the final buzzer sounded.

“It’s something new,” he said. “You can’t put your head down or nothing like that. You’ve just got to get ready for the next game. We’ve got a long season. It’s just the first game.”

Gordon added: “I just want to win. No matter how I do it.”

There’s still plenty for the young Gordon to work on, McDonald said. With Gordon’s ability to penetrate the lane, he said he’d like to see him find an open player more than forcing shots, as he started to do toward the end of Friday’s game when WKU was down.

Gordon finished just 4-of-16 from the field after he forced several layups, perhaps being “too aggressive,” McDonald said.

But one thing McDonald isn’t worried about is Gordon’s effort on the floor and called him “a student of the game.”

“He is very, very in to getting better,” he said. “I guarantee you, he texts me and calls me tonight and says, ‘Coach what do I got to do better? Let’s watch film.’ Once again, you love his attitude and he’s just going to keep getting better.”