Jordan Caroline brings blue collar mentality for Nevada Wolf Pack
RENO — Jordan Caroline said his only year at Southern Illinois was a “great learning experience.”
Caroline was being diplomatic and politically correct.
On Friday at 8 p.m. when the Nevada Wolf Pack meets up with SIU at the Continental Tires Classic in Las Vegas, Caroline hopes to inflict as much damage as possible on his former team.
In short, he wants to show what they are missing.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Caroline, who averaged 9.2 points and 6.2 rebounds a game in his only season at SIU. “I’m excited for it. It wasn’t a good situation.
“I felt I wasn’t getting to play my game. I don’t care where I’m slotted, as long as I can play at all three levels (inside, perimeter, wing). A ‘5’ here stays on the perimeter. There (at SIU) I was confined with my back to the basket. I felt my game wasn’t being allowed to grow. I didn’t see any change which is why I left. I talked with the coaches, but I got the vibe that things weren’t going to change.”
It was a mass exodus. Caroline was one of three freshmen to leave.
At the time SIU coach Barry Hinson said he “did not expect this or see it coming.”
Not exactly true, according to Caroline.
“I told him I was probably going to transfer,” Caroline said. “He shouldn’t have been surprised.
“I’d play a lot in big games and then not play much in others. I remember one game against Loyola-Chicago, I was really playing well. He took me out and I never came back in.”
Caroline also admitted to local media covering SIU he wanted to play at a higher level. After he left SIU, he entertained offers from Xavier and Cincinnati before deciding on Nevada.
“Muss,” Caroline said when asked why he chose Nevada. “The coaching staff at the time were all great guys. I felt at home here. If basketball didn’t work out, I knew I’d enjoy going to school.
“His (NBA) experience helped my decision a lot. Everybody wants to get there. It helps a lot that a guy has been there and he knows what it takes to get there. I wanted to learn under him.”
Caroline said after Tuesday’s win over UC Davis he stays in contact with Armon Fletcher, who was in the same recruiting class, and is one of his best friends.
Teammate Caleb Martin knows Caroline will be keyed up on Friday.
“He is going to want to come out and score 50,” Martin said. “I don’t think he’d do anything crazy.”
Nevada and Caroline. It has been a match made in heaven.
The 6-foot-7 230-pound Caroline has won over coaches, teammates and the Lawlor faithful with his tough, blue-collar play and his never-ending motor. He has been Nevada’s emotional leader. He was the one constant in Nevada’s run to its first NCAA appearance in 10 years.
“Where I’m from, everybody plays like that,” Caroline said, referring to his days as a youth playing at the Douglas Community Center in Champaign, Illinois. “It molds you to bring energy or toughness. You pretty much had to be tough to get on the floor there.”
“He brings energy, rebounding and scoring,” Martin said. “He fills up a stat sheet. He is a high energy guy, and the team feeds off that.”
He’s a guy the coaching staff never has to worry about in terms of effort. He’s as low maintenance as it gets.
“He is a physical guy,” Musselman said. “He seeks contact. He’s competitive and that rubs off on all of us. He works so hard.”
Musselman said it didn’t take long to watch film on Caroline to convince him it would be a good pickup.
“Coach (Anthony Ruta) and I watched film for maybe 40 seconds (on Jordan),” Musselman said. “You could see the effort. I told him he could stay, but I was going to Michael’s Deli to get a sandwich.”
Musselman said Caroline has worked hard on his perimeter game in an effort to be a more complete player.
“Coach wants me to be a bigger 3-point threat, because everybody is going to play me for the drive,” Caroline said. “This year I’m not getting as many catch-and-shoot 3s like I did last year.”
Musselman said Caroline could be a player at the next level like P.J. Tucker, who has been playing in the NBA for several years after a successful career at Texas. Both are rugged, competitive players, and there’s plenty of room in the NBA for guys like that.
This year has been one of happiness and heartache for Caroline.
The happiness came when he became a father on Labor Day weekend. The baby was named J.C. after his late grandfather, J.C. Caroline, a star player with the Chicago Bears, who passed away last month.
“It’s the best thing ever,” Caroline said. “It has been really humbling. If I have a bad game or we lose, I see him and I’m at peace with the world.”
Class, fatherhood/relationship and basketball. It’s a lot, and each thing takes a lot of time and effort.
“Yeah, it’s been tough,” Caroline said. “His mom has done a great job of making it a lot easier. She is a great mother to him.”
When Caroline’s grandfather passed away, he was shocked.
“It was sudden,” Caroline said. “He had pneumonia and then he went home, and then all of a sudden he went back into the hospital and passed. It hurt a lot. I play even harder for him. He is always on my mind. He meant so much to me.”
Caroline didn’t leave the team right away. He played against UOP, Davidson and Hawaii before he went to the Midwest to be with his family.
“I didn’t want to miss any games,” Caroline said. “The biggest thing is that I wanted to be here for the team.”