ORLANDO, Fla. — When Aaron Gordon was selected for the U.S. Under-19 basketball team last summer, he chose to wear No. 32 as a nod to Magic Johnson, whom Gordon mimicked as a kid growing up in Northern California.
But now Gordon is a freshly minted NBA player himself. He’s the cornerstone of the Orlando Magic draft class, and the fourth overall pick isn’t thinking about childhood idols or anybody else who may have worn that number on an NBA floor.
“Shaquille O’Neal had that number here, too, so didn’t want to have that comparison ... I didn’t want to follow Magic Johnson’s number,” Gordon said Friday. “If you try to aspire to be one person, I think your aspirations are going to fall short every single time. I want to try to leave my own legacy with my own number.”
His jersey choice instead? Double zero, his first AAU number.
“The ‘00’ represents how wide I want the fans’ eyes to be when they see me on the court playing,” he said.
It’s a good thing, because it’s also the sentiment of No. 10 pick Elfrid Payton and No. 56 pick Roy Devyn Marble. And with them the Magic made a clear announcement Thursday that their rebuilding process will be focused on players known first for what they bring on the defense side.
This trio joins other youthful Orlando players Victor Oladipo (last year’s No. 2 pick) and big man Nik Vucevic on what was already one of the league’s youngest teams.
It got even younger on draft night when Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan dealt last year’s leading scorer, Arron Afflalo, to Denver for the pick used on Marble.
“We have three individuals who represent what we want to be about,” Hennigan said.
Payton, a John Ehret High product who played at Louisiana-Lafayette, has familiarity playing alongside Gordon on Team USA’s Under-19 squad that won the world championship last year. He said being able to guard multiple positions is what he believes earned him a place on that roster.
“We just wore teams out, and it was blowouts at halftime,” Payton said of their gold medal run last summer. “And I think my defense is what got me picked in the position I was picked (Thursday).”
Gordon, who has played both small and power forward, said he would yield to coach Jacque Vaughn on where to play him. He joins a frontcourt that includes fourth-year veteran Tobias Harris and third-year veterans Maurice Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Kyle O’Quinn.
Vaughn said there is no rush to put Gordon in a specific position.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “But I’ll look at more positives than anything. The versatility’s gonna be great. But the thing I’m looking forward to on a nightly basis is not having to worry about effort, energy, competitiveness.
“Our guys will embrace that on a nightly basis. That’s the most compelling part about having these three young men.”
Gordon said he would “try to pick everybody’s brain on the team” as he prepares to enter his rookie season.
“That’s what makes a good team,” he said. “I need to find out what page everybody is on, and then try to flip to the same page all at once. The competition level at practice is gonna be through the roof. That’s where it starts.
“I know I’m gonna compete. And I know they’re gonna compete because I’m competing. So it’s just gonna be really competitive from top to bottom.”