Jordan rising to the challenge
Pretty much everyone at Plainfield East High School in suburban Chicago knows Aaron Jordan.
Becoming the first boys’ basketball player at the relatively new high school to commit to Illinois has a way of making your name a household one.
Some are die-hard Illinois fans and know he committed on Jan. 4, the same day Illinois improved to 13-2 after a 75-55 home win against Penn State.
So they know the Illini have only gone 2-10 since then, including eight straight losses.
Which is why Jordan was among the many Illinois supporters who was glad the losing streak ended 12 days ago at Penn State.
“One of my teachers told me that the curse of Aaron Jordan is on,” he said with a smile. “They’ve been playing hard, though. They’ve got a couple of things to fix, and they’ll be back on track.”
In the two wins since he committed, freshman Kendrick Nunn has put on a Jordan-like performance with his outside shooting, making 9 of 16 three-pointers.
Jordan can go on shooting streaks like that, too, and the junior guard at Plainfield East has done so consistently this season.
He has made 48 percent of his three-point attempts (51 of 106) as the Bengals get ready to play at Romeoville (Ill.) High School tonight.
“Shooting-wise, he’s probably one of the best shooters I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach, especially as a head coach,” Plainfield East’s sixth-year head coach Branden Adkins said. “The one thing that really stuck out for me when I first met him in middle school was his unbelievable work ethic already. We saw that early on. Him and his dad would be out here in the gym before and after our summer stuff. He’d have him dribbling through chairs and getting up a lot of shots. There were times where I’d just let him and dad stick around a little bit longer than everybody else.
"He was very charismatic, even as a young kid. He wasn’t really shy or anything like that. He was very respectful. You just knew that whether it was going to be basketball or whatever he decided, he was going to definitely be good at.”
Illinois coach John Groce and his staff seriously started recruiting Jordan last spring.
They left an immediate impression on Jordan and his family.
“Going through this whole process and being able to meet all of these coaches, they all, for the most part, have their own personalities,” said Romelda Jordan, Aaron’s mother. “Some left a lasting impression. Coach Groce was very personable. It seemed like you could just sit down and talk to him about anything. He was just very welcoming. Not to say the other coaches were not welcoming, but he made it a point to remember all of our names.”
Adkins makes it clear he likes the Illini.
By growing up in Pekin, he said you were either a fan of Bradley, Illinois State or Illinois. He chose the state school.
“I wasn’t the best student in high school, but I applied there just so I could get an Illinois letter,” Adkins said. “Even if it was a rejection letter. When Aaron was being recruited, and I had Tom Crean here, my first goal was to support Aaron and what he wanted to do, but he did know where my alliance was. I wanted him to make the decision and not have any type of persuasion coming from my way.”
Getting stronger is a main focus for Jordan. Adkins said he has seen improvement in that area, and Jordan added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame last summer, but wants to see other progressions in his game.
“He’s got to continue to be a better defender, on and off the ball,” Adkins said. “He has a tendency to gamble sometimes wanting to get a steal or reach, and he’ll get in foul trouble for it. Sometimes he has to recognize when he’s being defended a little bit differently that he’s got to allow his team to help him because sometimes when he gets the basketball, he feels he has to get the shot up right away. It’s not because he’s trying to be selfish, but it’s because he wants to step up to a challenge for his team, but he’s been better at it. Early on he was forcing some shots, but the last couple opponents we’ve seen that with, he’s allowed his teammates to get more involved and our scoring has been much more balanced.”
Plainfield East guard Nick Novak said Jordan understands opponents want to contain him the best they can.
Shut down a Big Ten recruit and a high school player's reputation grows.
“We know what teams’ scouting reports are,” Novak said. “The first thing on there is, ‘Stop Aaron Jordan.’ We realize it, and he realizes it. He’s going to get his looks no matter what. He takes good shots and he also knows how to facilitate. We’ve learned to adapt and how to get him the ball.”
Jordan is still adjusting to the outside spotlight. One that will continue the rest of this season, during the AAU season and throughout his senior season.
“His recruiting process brought some notoriety to us, but I think with him committing to Illinois and being an in-state kid from the Chicagoland area, a lot of people are excited about that, not just for Aaron, but for Coach Groce and his coaching staff,” Adkins said. “Anytime we’ve gone anywhere, people point and say, ‘There’s Aaron Jordan.’”