Jordan's son aims for bigger role at Illinois

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) " Jeff Jordan came to Illinois without much more than a famous name.

His talent didn't earn him a scholarship, and there were few, if any, on-court expectations.

Illinois fans called Jordan's arrival two years ago a nice story " legend's son picks Illinois " and wondered how often his dad might catch a game at Assembly Hall.

But people who've known Jordan since he stepped on the court at Loyola Academy in Chicago's north suburbs say he brought something else with him south to Champaign " a chip on his shoulder.

"I know it was a stretch for him to go to the University of Illinois," said Patrick Mahoney, athletic director at the Wilmette, Ill., prep school. "I know he did that to prove to everybody he could play Division I at a big-time school."

Now, as Jordan finishes up his sophomore year " with scholarship in hand " the departure of Illinois tough-guy guard Chester Frazier is creating an opening. Coach Bruce Weber says it's one that Michael Jordan's oldest son could help fill if he puts in the work.

"He's got to really make a decision," Weber said. "Does he want to make another giant step this summer? I told him he could be a 20-, 25-minute guy."

Weber has said something similar every year about Jordan. The coach talked in Jordan's freshman year about how the young guard needed to find a niche to fill, then before the season that just ended about how he needed to work to push beyond the four or five minutes a game he'd carved out for himself.

So far, he's cleared every hurdle Weber has pointed him toward. Jordan played 5.3 minutes in 26 games as a freshman walk-on. This past season he bumped those numbers up to 8.4 minutes and 33 games. He was one of three reserves in Weber's regular rotation.

But assuming Frazier's role, even just a part of it, won't be just another hurdle.

In his four seasons at Illinois, the guard from Baltimore played through injury, fan criticism that he wasn't an offensive threat and the death of his father. He turned himself into perhaps the Big Ten's toughest defender.

In his senior year, Frazier was a big part of why Illinois went 24-10 and earned an NCAA tournament berth a season after being plagued by bad shooting and worse chemistry in going 16-19.

The Illini got a little taste of what life without Frazier might be like as the season wound down.

Frazier injured his shooting hand in practice just before the Big Ten tournament opened and didn't play again. In his absence, the Illini went 1-2, including the first-round loss to 12th-seeded Western Kentucky that sent fifth-seeded Illinois home from the NCAAs.

Jordan saw Frazier hurt the hand, and he figured, even after doctors operated on it, that there was no way would the guy who played hurt so often would end his career on the bench.

"I've seen him get a broken nose and still come back," Jordan said. "I never had any doubt that he was going to play. But it was obviously worse than he thought."

Without Frazier, Illinois looked lost for most of the western Kentucky loss, and had no defensive answer for Purdue's Robbie Hummel in the 66-56 defeat that ushered the Illini out of the conference tournament.

But Weber got a glimpse of what he'd like to see from Jordan in Illinois' 60-50 win over Michigan in the Illini's Big Ten tournament opener.

Mike Davis stole the headlines with 22 points, but, Illinois' defense " best in the Big Ten " made the difference.

"I thought the Michigan game was probably one of (Jordan's) shining moments," Weber said. "I think you saw he can be a pest on defense."

Since he came to Illinois in 2007, Jordan has closely watched and listened to Frazier, the player Illini coaches have told him he's most like: defensive, athletic, a quiet leader with a good basketball IQ.

"He's basically been a coach on the floor," Jordan said.

"We're probably going to need somebody like him, like he was, next year," he said. "They've been talking to me about that, and I've been definitely looking to follow after him."

Jordan and those who've known him since high school think he'll be able to fill some of the leadership vacuum left by Frazier's graduation.

They point out that Jordan captained his high school team for three years.

Mahoney, the Loyola athletic director, says Jordan has a "blue-collar, lunch pail" work ethic.

While saying he feels like just one of the guys on Weber's roster, Jordan knows that by virtue of his last name he's not just another kid who can dribble and shoot.

While Jordan says he gets no more attention than any other Illini player when he goes out in Champaign-Urbana, he is, no matter how many minutes he plays, the most recognizable name on the team when Illinois goes on the road. When Illinois practiced in Portland for its NCAA game last month, more kids lined up for his autograph than for anyone else on the court.

And Jordan, a psychology major, says he hopes to go for his first internship soon " with Nike, a company his dad has deep ties to.

And of course there's his dad, a source of steady advice after just about every game.

"He'll send me a text, 'Call me when you get to the hotel,"' Jordan said.

"And he's definitely not scared to tell me what's on his mind," he said with a laugh. "He probably knows my game better than I do. ... He's been watching me play since forever."


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