Jordan looks at UI career with promise

 

 

By Jeff LaBelle

It was a weird initiation to say the least, unheard of actually, but as the eager cameras of the preseason died down and the mad media scramble that defined Jeff Jordan’s first few weeks as an Illini came to pass, the freshman guard stood unharmed, alert and quite responsive.

He survived the onslaught of the Canadian press in those early above-the-border exhibitions last November and lived to talk about broadcasts on national halftime shows and morning specials. He was TiVo’ed and tossed around by all the major media players, and people gawked at him from their couches, wondering if he could really be anything like his dad.

“Jeffrey Jordan gets a lot of hype and everybody’s always asking about him,” head coach Bruce Weber said at the time. “His name always comes up first.”

Then, and ever since, the eldest son of Michael Jordan puts on a smile, even when he isn’t playing. Jordan has averaged nearly one point per game, getting extended looks against Indiana and Minnesota and scored five points in three minutes against Purdue in mid-January. His quiet confidence on the practice court though – pushing past players as he comes off screens, looking actively for the open man down low – has laid the groundwork for what his career at Illinois will no doubt be built on: sheer grit and hustle.

“I think you’re born with that intensity but you also have to kind of develop it,” Jordan said. “You have to come out with that mind-set, ‘man, I’m going to stop my guy from scoring’ every time you go out.”

For the most part, fans are still left guessing what the Loyola Academy product can really become with only rare glimpses of the royal son serving as evidence. Playing behind established starters like Chester Frazier, Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock for most of the season, Jordan has had only a few minutes at a time to make an impact. But in his minutes at practice, Jordan has made strides.

“I think I’ve been getting better by the day. I think lately, especially, my offensive game has definitely been coming around,” the 6-foot-1 Highland Park, Ill., native said. “Hopefully I can just keep working on my defense and my offense in practice and see how I can fit in a little more with the team. I’ve been getting more minutes lately and that’s been good.”

In Jordan, Weber projects a more athletic version of Frazier, with the potential to establish himself as more of a sharp shooter. He said both players can take over defensively but that Jordan, if he can establish a pull-up jump shot, could bring another dimension to his game.

“With Jeffrey Jordan, you’ve got some good athleticism; he’s quick. I think he has a smart head for the game, a good feel for the game,” Weber said. “Right now his shooting isn’t the best, maybe his passing has to improve. And that will come with time, but he can give us some energy, he can be a leader. He’s a positive kid, everybody likes him. If you add that all up together that’s what he can become.

“I can see him playing very similar to Chester down the road, being an energy guy, a defensive stopper, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he added. “Sometimes in today’s society everybody wants to be the top scorer and all that stuff. Teams win because they have a right mixture of players.”

Jordan, one of Illinois’ most active defenders, said coaches have praised his efforts on that end of the floor. If he becomes notorious enough for his defensive efforts in the coming years, it’s not hard to imagine Jordan somehow spinning it into shooting commercials with his iconic father.

“I’m definitely going to try to see what I can do,” said Jordan, only half joking about a possible stint in the commercial world. “We’ll see what I can do once school’s over with. I have a few connections you know. I’ll definitely look into doing that.”