Seven-footer Jordan makes name for self at Tulsa
The odds for basketball success seemed stacked against Jerome Jordan.
He's from Jamaica, where bobsledders can get more publicity than hoops players. He didn't take up the game seriously until he was 17 and then had to sit out his senior year of high school in Florida because of red tape, meaning college scholarship offers were rare.
But Jordan is 7-feet tall, and by combining his height with intense conditioning and a focus on developing an all-around skill set, he's not only helped Tulsa enjoy a basketball renaissance, he's turned into a player with legitimate hopes of wearing an NBA uniform.
Entering the Golden Hurricane's game Thursday at No. 5 Duke, Jordan is averaging 15.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocked shots per game. Jordan owns the Conference USA career record for blocks with 322 and four times this season, he's recorded six in a game for Tulsa (19-8).
``We weren't sure it was going to turn out the way it did,'' Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik said. ``But to have that height ... and he does have skills. That's a real positive for him. I think his best basketball is ahead of him. I sure hope it is.
``He's not David Robinson talent-wise,'' said Wojcik, who played at Navy with the future NBA star, ``but in terms of his growth from where he's started to where he's ending, I always make that comparison.''
Jordan said he attended school for a time in Jamaica with star sprinter Usain Bolt, but he ended up at Florida Air Academy in Melbourne for his senior season. Because of an academic transfer rule, Jordan wasn't able to play, reducing his chances at attracting college scholarship offers.
``It was tough sitting out, but I knew I was getting better just practicing, going up against guys who had been playing all their lives,'' Jordan said. ``I never got ahead of myself. I always knew I had a whole lot of stuff to learn.''
A coaching friend of Wojcik's saw Jordan play at an Amateur Athletic Union event during the spring of Jordan's senior season and contacted the Tulsa coach. Wojcik flew to Florida to visit Aubin Goporo, the coach at Florida Air Academy, and came away impressed with Jordan's raw physical skills, intelligence and willingness to learn.
Jordan said he chose Tulsa over Stetson and North Florida. He arrived at Tulsa weighing about 220 pounds and having rarely faced serious, high-level competition. He quickly found out that life as a Division I player would be a physical challenge.
The 23-year-old Jordan, who's developed offensive range out to 15 feet - and sometimes beyond - to go with his height, length and defensive timing, said he's amazed at how much he's progressed.
``If somebody had told me I'd be in this position right now, I wouldn't doubt it completely, but (I'd think) it would be highly unlikely,'' Jordan said. ``Every day I try to learn something new. I definitely have a good ways to go. I have a lot of room to improve still.''
Jordan, who wears a size 17 shoe, now is a well-toned 250 pounds and has made a believer of opposing coaches, especially with his defensive presence inside.
``He's a pro,'' Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said after Jordan had 11 points, nine rebounds and six blocks while helping Tulsa rout the Cowboys 86-65 on Dec. 2.
Mike Davis, the coach at conference rival UAB, said Jordan ``is just a really good basketball player.
``Jordan is a guy, that it isn't really on paper, but he just causes a lot of havoc,'' Davis said. ``There are no clear drives. There are no post-ups.''
Jordan and fellow senior Ben Uzoh have helped turn Tulsa, which played in an NCAA regional final as recently as 2000, back into a winner. The Golden Hurricane went 20-11 during his freshman season, went 25-14 and won the College Basketball Invitational in 2008 - Jordan was named the tournament MVP - and reached the National Invitation Tournament last season, going 25-11.
He considered entering the NBA draft but opted to return. Tulsa hasn't produced an NBA player since Michael Ruffin was drafted in 1999, but Jordan and Uzoh both are on the radar of NBA teams.