Find his niche: Jeff Jordan’s Illini career shaping up

Wesley+Fane+The+Daily+Illini+Illinois+Jeff+Jordan+%2813%29+looks+to+make+a+pass+during+the+first+half+of+the+game+against+Penn+State+at+Assembly+Hall+Wednesday%2C+Feb.+18%2C+2009.%0A

Wesley Fane The Daily Illini Illinois’ Jeff Jordan (13) looks to make a pass during the first half of the game against Penn State at Assembly Hall Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.

By Jeremy Werner

Jeff Jordan has had to deal with questions all his life. It didn’t change when the son of the greatest basketball player of all time enrolled at Illinois.

What’s your dad like? Can you get me an autograph? What was it like living in that huge house? And the most annoying of all: Was that you in the movie “Space Jam”? (No, it wasn’t).

It’s all part of being Michael Jordan’s son. But gradually, Jeff Jordan is inching out of the enormous shadow of No. 23 and creating his own modest profile in Champaign.

“The longer I’ve been on campus, the more it’s gone from questions about my dad to questions about me, questions about how the team’s doing and everything,” Jordan said. “It hasn’t been that bad lately. It just comes with the territory, and you just let it go.”

Jordan passed up an athletic scholarship offer from Valparaiso to take an academic scholarship and walk-on role at Illinois. Illini head coach Bruce Weber told Jordan he couldn’t promise any playing time but the 6-foot guard has consistently found a way onto the court.

“The only thing (Weber) told me when I got here and when I took my visit was that whoever’s playing well, whoever fits the team well is going to play,” Jordan said. “That’s something I’ve been trying to do and just trying to find my role and stay together, stay with the team.”

Though he is not in line to be an All-Big Ten candidate during his Illini career, Jordan has established himself as a part of the equation at Illinois. He has played in 25 of 26 games for No. 18 Illinois and averages 8.4 minutes a game, coming off the bench as a defensive post.

Weber rewarded Jordan’s effort with a scholarship for the 2009 spring semester.

“I think he’s proven to us that he belongs,” Weber said. “He does a nice job of having a niche, having a role.”

Jordan made his biggest impact of the season last Sunday in a 65-52 win at Indiana.

With Trent Meacham in foul trouble and Demetri McCamey slowed by illness, Jordan provided a spark off the bench, pushing the tempo on offense and hounding Indiana ballhandlers on defense. The sophomore guard finished with four points, one block and one assist in 12 minutes.

“He used the time; he was very valuable,” Weber said. “He guarded well. He blocked a shot. Then he got some confidence and got a pull-up jumper and got a layup.”

“Maybe this will be a little boost of confidence for him and then for the coaching staff,” he said.

Jordan could become a more important cog for the Illini next season with the graduation of Chester Frazier and Meacham – the team’s best perimeter defenders.

“Jeff is really an underrated guy,” Frazier said. “With his athleticism, I think he could be a better defender than me because he has so much athleticism, and he’s a lot quicker.”

Jordan has looked up to Frazier as a model of what he could become, picking his mind in film study sessions.

“Sometimes I’ll even go over to (Frazier’s) house and watch a couple games,” Jordan said. “He hangs out with the coaches more than anybody, so just being around him and listening to what he has to say, it’s like having another coach.”

Jordan is also gaining confidence on offense, as evidenced by his quick pull-up jumpshot at Indiana. Meacham said Jordan has a good mid-range game and could be tougher to guard if he improves from beyond the 3-point arc.

Though he has made strides, Jordan is not guaranteed ample playing time next season with highly-touted guards D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul set to enroll at Illinois next fall. But Weber said he hopes Jordan will have a “more established role.”

“He’s got to continue to improve,” Weber said. “If he wants to replace Chester, he has to have that energy and that conditioning to be the defensive stopper. He does push the ball well. He could be a nice player for us and help us.”

Jordan originally chose Illinois because he felt like he meshed with the program. But it is taking longer for those who follow the Illini – the students, the fans and the media – to separate Jordan from the legacy of his father.

But Jordan isn’t resentful. In fact, he’s visibly proud of his lineage. His left deltoid bears a tattoo of the Jordan “Jumpman 23” logo embossed on top of the Chicago skyline.

Even his athletic attributes, including a 48-inch vertical, are testaments of his bloodlines. But Jordan is out to create his own profile, even if it is impossible to live up to the standards established by his father.

“I think I came in and surprised a lot of people,” Jordan said. “I think I surprised Coach Weber too.”