When the Grambling State men’s basketball team hosted Colorado in Grambling, La. last November, as a part of the PAC-12/SWAC Legacy Series, the Tigers managed to secure an 83-74 win in a game where power forward Carte’are Gordon logged 14 points, five rebounds, two assists, one steal, and two blocks.
This was the second win in Grambling State’s history over a Power Five school.
Then, almost one month later, on Dec. 9, the Tigers played another Power Five program on the road at Vanderbilt. The Tigers edged out the Commodores 64-62, with Gordon leading the team in scoring with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists, and a block. These were two definitive wins for a team that is currently 12-7 overall and 5-2 in the SWAC, currently sitting in third place in the conference.
Gordon has been one of the Tigers’ best players, averaging 12.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game. It has been the culmination of a journey that brought him to a southern HBCU all the way from the Midwest.
“The thing is, I always tell them, it’s going to prepare you to be a better person coming down South because some of those old traditions we lost moving up North,” Grambling State head coach Donte’ Jackson said. “They’re down here in the South, and they are going to help you be a better person in the long run.”
The cultural aspect of HBCUs was definitely one of the main reasons that, on July 31, 2020, Gordon made the decision to transfer to Grambling State from Northwest Florida State. He entered the transfer portal in November 2019 after playing 11 games for the Raiders and averaging 9.2 points and 6.5 rebounds in 22 minutes per game.
This was not the only time Gordon utilized the transfer portal. He initially committed to Saint Louis University in 2018, coming out of Webster Groves High School in St. Louis as a four-star recruit and member of the ESPN 100 high school recruits. He spent one semester there and then transferred to DePaul University, where he didn’t play and only spent seven months there before transferring again to Northwest Florida State.
“Everybody has different reasons and different backgrounds and different routes,” Gordon said. “The decision for me to transfer was just off of my path and my journey and what I had to go through.”
He credits Jackson and assistant coach Kyle Jones with convincing him to come to Grambling State. He believes that God sent those two men to him, and after talking to Jackson and building a strong relationship with him, he had begun to see him as a father figure. Jackson sold Gordon on the family atmosphere of Grambling State and the fact that everybody there would encourage him in every aspect of his life.
The recruiting process was unique, as it took place during the pandemic and consisted of multiple phone and facetime conversations over the course of a couple of months. Given that Gordan, Jackson, and Jones — who also assisted in recruiting efforts — are all from the Midwest, a solid rapport had been established.
“He’s been a great kid, is about to graduate in May, and is doing all the things that he needs to on the basketball court to change the narrative and the outlook around being a basketball player and a student-athlete,” Jones said about Gordan. “Being able to understand that at an HBCU and as black men, we have to do it with service, and we’ll be doing a disservice if we don’t get that degree because at the end of the day, the ball will stop bouncing.”
Jackson always encourages his players by being very honest, patient, and understanding with them. Every day, he teaches them about something bigger than basketball, and Gordon has learned to enjoy this moment and to leave a positive mark on his team while he can.
“He always tells me that I can leave a big mark all the time,” Gordon said. “He always tells me how impactful I can be and what I can do and to work hard and give it my all … I’m very grateful for him pushing me like that.”
A sense of brotherhood is what Gordon has attained at Grambling State, with Jones being an extension of Jackson as a big brother. Assistant coaches Eshaunte Jones and Devarus Walker also help motivate Gordan and the team to communicate clearly. Since they are a brotherhood, they eat, laugh, love, cry, and pray together, bringing them even closer as a family.
“Just to be able to network and be around a great group of guys, it means a lot to me, and it helps me stay in tune and stay joyful about everything because you’re going through everything with a bunch of guys who want it just as badly as you,” Gordon said.
Gordon has acquired two other new experiences at Grambling State, including counseling and taking advantage of NIL, which he is still learning a lot about. He hopes to make more connections and network more while still in Louisiana, as he believes it is significant for basketball and college sports in general.
“The toughest part about NIL is that it’s different everywhere,” Jackson said. “It’s a different space that we’re all in. There are different monetary values all across the board. I think the biggest thing is to have great relationships with your kids first and foremost, and then when those opportunities happen for them, embrace them and make sure that they get taken care of in the long run, and they understand all the things that they need to have happen with that NIL.”
The fact that Gordon was a top-tier prospect coming out of high school and has been highly successful so far in college has helped him to get better deals in his eyes, and he believes that he could get these kinds of deals regardless of whether he is at an HBCU or a Power Five school.
Gordon is proud to be a part of the entire HBCU basketball culture that he feels is unique. He believes that in the future, more players like him will choose to come to these schools and push them forward, similar to what Deion Sanders did as the head coach of the Jackson State University football team. He believes that the trend will continue in basketball, football, and other sports at HBCUs.
“I think that as long as we stay together and keep pushing like the coach has been trying to do and has been doing, they’ll always keep coming up, and I think that guys will start wanting to be part of it,” Gordon said.
As far as goals for this season go, Gordon wants to not only win the SWAC and receive an automatic berth for the NCAA Tournament, but he wants to make history and to go all the way and show the nation what Grambling State basketball is all about. Another opportunity for him and his team to do just that is the NBA HBCU Classic on Saturday, Feb. 18, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As a part of the NBA All-Star Weekend, Grambling State will face archrival Southern, who currently leads the SWAC by one game over Alcorn State and GSU, respectively. Gordon knows that he and his team haven’t played their best basketball, but he believes that they will reach their full potential eventually.
“We have highlights and spurts where we show the type of team that we are, so with due time, we’ll be all the way there,” he said.
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