Central Florida coach Donnie Jones told himself there was no way Marcus Jordan would step on the court last week.
It didn’t matter that the Knights had achieved the first national ranking in the history of the program two days earlier, or that with a road win against UMass, they could return to Orlando a perfect 11-0.
Jordan barely could move in the afternoon shootaround just hours before tip-off. I saw it with my own eyes — and so, too, did Jones.
But after Jordan watched his Knights struggle to put points on the board for 20 minutes and saw two teammates go down with first-half injuries, the Son of Michael began to beg and plead. First to the assistant coaches, then to Jones.
"You gotta let me in, Coach,” Jordan said.
"No way," Jones replied.
Jordan kept nagging and finally Jones relented — at first just letting him warm up prior to the start of the second half.
Then he inserted his star sophomore guard, clad in a pair of new blue Air Jordans — the only sneakers that Jordan was able to get his swollen foot in — with 15 minutes remaining in the game.
"He was like Superman,” Jones later joked. "He took off the cape.”
Jordan didn’t evoke memories of his father in the final 15 minutes by any means, but he was effective enough down the stretch. He made 5 of 6 free throws, refused to come off the court after he entered the game, and more importantly, provided toughness and a winning mentality that gave UCF its 11th consecutive win to begin the season.
"I wouldn’t have believed this,” acknowledged Jones, whose team is ranked 19th and one of eight undefeated schools left in the Division I ranks heading into a Wednesday night home game against Furman.
"That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in this team, but I’m a new coach trying to figure out who to play. It’s all new.”
Added Jordan: "We weren’t supposed to do this."
There were plenty shaking their heads last spring when they learned that Jones was leaving Marshall — just minutes down the road from where he grew up in West Virginia — for another Conference USA team.
Jones had gotten it going with the Thundering Herd, but he saw the potential at Central Florida. There’s the draw of Orlando, the campus population, the weather and the facilities.
However, no one envisioned this happening. Not now — and maybe not ever.
And while no one is certain how long it’ll continue, the unlikely duo of Jones and Jordan is leading the way — and everyone is enjoying the ride.
"Why not?” Jordan replied when asked if the Knights, tabbed to finish 10th in the C-USA preseason poll, could continue their winning ways.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Jordan is averaging 15.2 points, good for second on the team.
"He’s been terrific,” Jones said. "I didn’t realize he was this good.”
Then there’s underrated sophomore power forward Keith Clanton, a holdover from the Kirk Speraw regime who acknowledged he had thoughts of going elsewhere when Jones was hired in April.
"Sure, I thought about it,” said Clanton, who is nearly averaging a double-double (16.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg). "And I wasn’t alone, but at the end of the day, I decided to stick it out, and now it’s the best feeling ever.”
Despite Clanton leading the team in scoring, this is Jordan’s team — and everyone is just fine with that.
"He showed what type of guy he was tonight,” Clanton said after the UMass game. "He showed a lot of heart. A lot of guys wouldn’t have come in after halftime because their stats would drop, but that’s what kind of guy he is.”
"He’s humble and unselfish,” added starting point guard A.J. Rompza, who is Jordan’s best friend and former high school teammate.
The kid who who can’t possibly live up to the legend of his father — and who was crucified for his offseason tweet about dropping a large chunk of change in a Las Vegas club — finally is beginning to carve his own identity in this game.
"People think it’s so easy for him,” Rompza said. "But they have no idea how hard it is — and people also have the wrong perception of who he is.”
Jordan’s career began under difficult circumstances as he struggled and was held scoreless in his first two games, and four of his first nine.
"If he’s any other freshman, no one says anything,” Rompza said. "But since he’s who he is, everyone attacks him. He just needed time.”
As Jordan walked out of the Mullins Center in Amherst with his left foot enveloped in a boot following the victory over UMass, he flashed a grin similar to the one of his famous father.
Marcus Jordan finally is beginning to make a name for himself.