Jordan makes strides amid return to college coaching
Eddie Jordan and Mike Rice present a myriad of differences in on-court demeanor.
Firstly, when Jordan wears a suit as Rutgers head men’s basketball coach, his jacket doesn’t end up on the floor.
Rice was a disciplinarian whose abuse in practices eventually got him fired. The incessant national coverage and the University’s fallout from the incident made Rice’s firing the type of event that could hold a team back for a decade.
But it had to be done.
Rice’s last collegiate stint ended in 1992 as a Rutgers assistant coach to Bob Wenzel. Jordan said at his introductory press conference he actually wanted to be Rutgers’ head coach last time there was an opening in 2010, but Rice made the cut.
The Scarlet Knights product is a 59-year-old player’s coach, who adopted a talented team that lacked court chemistry.
Typically an athletic department might want a disciplinarian to whip them into shape. But the Rice fallout likely made hiring a coach with a fiery, authoritative reputation not a viable option.
And outside of Jordan’s control, it was no guarantee for any scholarship player to stay.
Luckily for Jordan, six did.
As Rutgers stands with a poor record (11-18, 5-11) a week away from the AAC Tournament, Jordan still likes his first-year progress.
“Even though we don’t particularly like our record … our kids seem to have fun playing and trying to do things right,” Jordan said Feb. 18 post-practice. “That’s what I like. That was the first order of business here is to allow our kids to play and enjoy basketball.”
The season is not quite a disappointment for Rutgers based on AAC coach projections.
Coaches predicted the Knights to finish last place in the conference, the preseason poll revealed. Now the Knights stand in seventh — three games ahead of last-place Temple.
Although Jordan halted high expectations for victories, he accelerated his delivery of information. Jordan began by introducing one play per day, and now he sometimes teaches information more quickly than he did in the NBA.
“I think I’ve actually sped things up just to challenge them to understand and retain it,” he said. “I throw a lot at them.”
He gives players more freedom and decision-making power than Rice, which junior guard Myles Mack respects.
But Rutgers regularly resembles the same product it was last year.
The offense is sometimes listless and lacks movement without the ball or efforts to pass into the paint. The defense struggles to transition, even if it stems from overcommitting on an offensive rebound.
It is all about the balance of discipline and freedom, Mack said.
“It’s been a struggle sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good for us. Sometimes he comes out and tells us what we need to do. We need that more often from Coach.”
Collegiate coaching is still an adjustment for Jordan, too, in his first year as a head coach for any college. Compared to his head coaching stints with the Sacramento Kings, Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers, Jordan has new worries.
“Maybe it’s harder for them to retain it and apply it,” Jordan said of coaching Rutgers. “But if you’re comparing it to the NBA, in the NBA it’s their livelihood. Here, they have other things. They have classes, they have tutoring. They have other things to do, so I understand that we have to have a little bit more patience.”
Part of the chemistry difficulties comes from implementing five newcomers, Mack said. Southern Methodist head coach Larry Brown had the same problem.
Brown inherited a roster before last season that “only had five guys, really,” the hall of fame head coach said Feb. 13 after Rutgers’ 77-65 loss to SMU.
Three transfers gained eligibility for the Mustangs (23-6, 12-4) this year, and two are key components to lifting SMU to likely its first NCAA Tournament since 1993.
Point guard Nic Moore is one of the AAC’s best all-around players. The Illinois State transfer averages 14.1 points per game — 12th in the conference — and 4.7 assists per game — third in the AAC.
Forward Marcus Kennedy, a Villanova transfer, contributes 11.9 points — second on the team to Moore — and seven rebounds per game.
The 73-year-old Brown never left his seat in the first half against Rutgers at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Jordan stands most of each game. He flails his arms at refs and players, but unlike Rice, he rarely clenches his fists or yells to the point of widening his eyes.
But Brown’s second-year success and coaching demeanor prove Jordan’s in-game discipline matters little for getting players to fully soak his message. Jordan just needs to figure out how to communicate it.
If Brown can turn around SMU so quickly, Jordan has a chance.
“I didn’t know if our record would reflect [our progress] because we were going to a whole different conference,” Brown said. “I don’t mean this in a disrespectful way, but Georgetown did it — great school, great city and a lot of good players around in a great conference. I don’t see why we can’t do it.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Josh Bakan on Twitter @JoshBakan. For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.