By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
BLOOMINGTON) -- Eric Gordon makes every move look naturally smooth -- the slick drives to the basket, the whip passes to teammates, the poke-away steals, even his long 3-pointers.
Indiana's best freshman in decades certainly is gifted, but the perception is he beats opponents on talent alone.
It's not that easy.
Few see the countless hours the 19-year-old has spent fine-tuning his moves, the constant studying of plays or the creativity he's used to fit the Hoosiers' style.
"I know how hard he works. I've watched how hard he works, getting in the gym and fixing his skills," said Doug Mitchell, Gordon's coach at North Central High School in Indianapolis. "That's always been the key. When a coach sees something, he fixes it."
At first glance, it appears Gordon's game doesn't need fixing.
The transition from high school star to freshman celebrity has been seamless. Gordon, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, entered the week leading the Big Ten in scoring (21.7 points per game), has taken more free throws (144) and made more free throws (122) than any other conference player and ranks fifth in 3-pointers per game (2.6).
He's already tied Mike Woodson's school record for most 30-point games by a freshman (three) and with a stronger finish, he may yet challenge Michael Redd's conference scoring record for freshmen (21.9).
Hardcore Hoosiers fans have embraced Gordon by wearing T-shirts that read "Got Gordon" and chant his name regularly during games, privileges typically reserved for upperclassmen.
But Gordon does not measure success in terms of personal glory.
He takes greater pride in being ranked No. 11 and helping the Hoosiers to their best 19-game record (17-2) since 1992-93. He'd rather win a conference title and play deep into March, perhaps even April, than hear the endless comparisons to former Indiana guard Isiah Thomas.
No, Gordon is not your typical freshman. He's humble, quiet and would do anything to avoid talking about himself.
"Coach told me not to even act like a freshman," Gordon said. "So I just play, I just play my game and let that take over."
The truth is Indiana almost missed out on the state's reigning Mr. Basketball.
He was supposed to be the next big Indiana prep star to spurn in-state schools. The recent list includes Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Josh McRoberts, Dominic James and Sean May, and it appeared the Hoosiers had missed out again when Gordon orally committed to Illinois in 2005.
When Mike Davis resigned and the Hoosiers hired Kelvin Sampson in the spring of 2006, Gordon reconsidered. Just contacting Gordon created discontent between the Indiana and Illinois coaching staffs, and had some Indiana fans questioning whether Sampson had followed the proper protocol.
Gordon was interested in staying closer to home.
"Do you tell someone to go ahead with a marriage if you have doubts? No. ... This is the best fit for him," Gordon's father, Eric Sr., said in October 2006 when his son announced his change of heart.
The marriage has benefited both parties.
Senior D.J. White's inside presence has taken the defensive pressure off Gordon's perimeter game. Guards Armon Bassett, Jamarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford are threats from 3-point range, too, forcing opponents to risk playing zone.
So Gordon's combination of NBA 3-point range and his ability to finish drives strong, has given the Hoosiers a dual threat and allowed Gordon to meet all those lofty expectations placed on him by scouts. He has no second thoughts now.
"I think I made the better choice of staying here at Indiana," Gordon said. "Basically, coach gave me all the freedom I want. He promised me that, and he's living up to that."
Defending Gordon can be a nightmare.
"He's a competitor," Iowa guard Tony Freeman said last week. "He's big, he's strong, he can jump, he's got the whole package."
But he's a coach's delight.
Gordon does whatever is asked and has no problem working hard to perfect flaws, such as becoming a better rebounder, an area Sampson recently indicated needs improvement. Given what Sampson's already witnessed, there's little doubt that will change.
"Watching him every day you can almost see his development in front of you," Sampson said. "He is a very attentive listener. Some kids hear you, but I am not sure they listen to you. Some kids look, I'm not sure they see. This kid hears you, he listens to you, he looks and he sees."
The biggest question at Indiana is how long Gordon will stick around.
Conventional wisdom suggests he's already got NBA skills and should be a lottery pick in June's draft.
He could even improve his draft stock over the next several weeks as the Hoosiers enter the meat of their conference schedule. They face Wisconsin twice, visit Ohio State and Illinois and get Michigan State at home in a 17-day span that begins Thursday.
Yet Mitchell doesn't believe any amount of success, money or stardom will alter Gordon's approach.
"At North Central, our motto is act like you've been there before. We've really continued that mind-set brought out by his family," he said. "He's got a strong mother, a strong father, his grandparents are very involved and they're all very grounded people. I don't think Eric will ever change."
Except perhaps in how he develops as a player.
Gordon is not yet satisfied with his play or that of the Hoosiers, and is intent on spending the next two months working hard to continue giving the impression it's easy for him.
Even if most don't understand how much work it takes.
"I would say we're probably playing like a six or seven out of 10. We can do better in many ways," he said. "We probably need to pressure the ball a little better, but overall we're trying to make strides in playing defense."