Marcus Jordan may never be a hoop icon like his father, but he and his team are looking good
ORLANDO — Odds are the starting shooting guard for the University of Central Florida never will become a basketball icon. He may never become an NBA star, or even play at the next level. But there’s no doubt the sophomore is following in his father’s shoes.
Marcus Jordan, son of you-know-who, may not want to be like Mike (“I just want to be me,’’ he said. “I love who I am. I wouldn’t want to be anybody else.’’), but heir Jordan is reminded of the burden that comes with legacy every time he laces ’em up and sees his father’s famous No. 23 on the heel.
“‘I don’t think about it,’’ he said. “I don’t talk to the logo.’’
Marcus, who was just a little kid when Michael Jordan was winning six NBA championships in the 1990s and five NBA MVPs, insists the pressure doesn’t faze him.
In fact, he embraces it.
“It’s just motivation to me,’’ said the 6-foot-3-inch, bespectacled Marcus, who turns 20 Christmas Eve. “You just kind of get used to it. When I was younger, there was a lot more pressure. Me thinking that I had to live up to expectations and blah, blah, blah, blah. People say, ‘You’re not gonna be your dad. You can’t live up to that.’ Stuff like that. I just never let it get to me. I let my game speak. But now I’m at the point where you either like my game or you don’t.’’
Inspired by some taunting he was receiving in a game at Stetson last month, Jordan delivered a message with a rim-shaking, thunder ous dunk that would make his father proud.
Said first-year UCF coach Donnie Jones, “They were saying some cruel stuff. They said a lot of hurtful things. But you know what? I was impressed by the way he responded.’’
“I was a little ticked off,’’ Jordan acknowledged. “The fans were saying stuff. I heard ’em on the free throw line. So when I got that opportunity to get that steal and dunk it just sent a wave through our team.’’
Marcus then saluted toward the crowd, earning a technical foul. He says he was actually saluting his older brother, Jeff, who transferred to UCF and is ineligible this season.
“It was just like an exclamation point,’’ he said.
Earlier this month, he was back on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,’’ when he switched hands in midair to complete a lefty layup against Florida — shades of Michael in Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals against the Lakers.
He says imitating one of his father’s greatest hits wasn’t planned.
“I went into the lane and I could feel the defender behind me, so I just switched hands to get it off the glass,’’ he said.
The move didn’t go unnoticed by Dad.
“Oh yeah, he saw it. He was watching it on TV. He didn’t say anything about it. He just said, overall I had a good game. He didn’t pick out any specifics.’’
Great characteristics So now the media spotlight shines on 24th-ranked and undefeated Central Florida (10-0), which plays UMass (6-3) tonight at Mullins Center.
Through eight games, Jordan was the Knights’ leading scorer. But now other teams are targeting him.
Louisiana Lafayette, knowing Jordan has added a 3-point shot to his arsenal, smothered him, forcing him to pass more. He is still second in scoring, averaging 16 points a game, but is battling a sprained ankle.
Jones says Jordan has experience well beyond his years.
“His strength is obviously the characteristics he gets from his father, his competitive nature, his focus, his toughness, his ability to understand how to compete and win,’’ said Jones.
“I thought his weakness when I arrived here was just his work ethic. His conditioning was very poor.’’
Jordan blames that on a knee injury that slowed him down last season.
Jones, who was an assistant at the University of Florida before spending three seasons as Marshall’s head coach, has experience with famous sons of athletes. He has coached Joakim Noah (son of tennis star Yannick), Taurean Green (son of Sidney), and Al Horford (son of Tito).
He placed Jordan on an aggressive program of suicide drills, weightlifting, and jump shots (500-1,000 a day in the summer).
The suicide drills were killer.
“You had to run eight suicides in eight minutes,’’ said Jordan. “You would have to make it in 33 seconds, so you would get the 27 seconds to rest. If you missed one, he would add one on. I mean it was rough to begin with. But now I’m quicker, faster, more athletic.’’
That bodes well for up-and-coming UCF, which is trying to prove that it’s no Mickey Mouse program. The Knights upset No. 16 Florida Dec. 1, just the second win for UCF against a ranked team.
Making his own name Jordan led Whitney Young to an Illinois state championship his senior year. He was recruited by schools with bigger reputations such as Stanford, but his childhood friend and teammate at UCF, A.J. Rompza, sold him on the program.
He’s also going to get the chance to play with his brother next season. Jeff transferred from Illinois and is sitting out this season, per NCAA rules.
Marcus is rated higher by scouts, but Jeff took more heat for being a Jordan.
“Jeff definitely got the worst of it,’’ said Marcus. “I could just sit back because I was younger. When I got to high school, when it started to blow up, I knew how to handle it.’’
Rompza, the point guard, says Marcus Jordan has an inner peace.
“As much of the crap people talk about him, that he has it easy, he’s spoiled, I don’t think people understand how humble he is,’’ said Rompza. “Marcus doesn’t do it for his dad or mom, he does it because it makes him happy. His dad has always been there for him but never has told him do this or do that. His dad never pushed him in any way.’’
One thing is clear. He is no Michael Jordan, but neither is anyone else.
He plays his game below the rim, more aggressive than his father, more Locomotive Jordan than Air Jordan.
Sometimes his tongue hangs out a bit — he’s unaware of it — but it doesn’t waggle like his father’s.
But he did play against his dad for fun.
“It was definitely very competitive,’’ said Marcus. “There might have been a couple of high elbows or two. I’d beat him now. I’m sure. He’s a little older now, he can’t really move like he used to.’’
Fatherly advice? Michael Jordan, who owns the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, watches every game, sometimes in person, but mostly on TV.
He says, “Just to go out and play my game,’ ’’ Marcus said. “Don’t go out and try to play a game that I don’t normally do, just play with confidence.’’
He also made an appearance at a Knights practice, but he never interferes with the team, said Jones.
“He said this is where great teams are built, right here in the arena in practice, hard work in practice,’’ said Marcus about his father’s advice. “Get better, trust in your teammates. It’s about what you do every day.’’
Marcus says he wants to play in the NBA. Bulls, Bobcats, he doesn’t care.
“Whoever writes the check,’’ he said with a laugh.
But that’s in the future, and he’s a bit of a long shot. But don’t count Marcus out, especially with his special tutor giving advice.
“The big thing with him was sometimes he said I need to stop, pull up, and take jump shots instead of taking it to the rim against bigger teams,’’ Marcus said.
Marcus said he’s proud of his last name.
“It definitely has its perks, but it definitely has its downside, too,’’ Marcus said. “The perks are the shoes and the clothes, definitely. The downside is you always have to think about what you are doing because you’re always being watched. It just becomes second nature. ’’
For heroes, he keeps it all in the family.
“My mom and dad, definitely. My dad for his work ethic, and just how he always sets goals for himself and then he goes out and achieves them. My mom for just being the strong woman she is.’’
He says hardly a day goes by without questions about his famous father.
He remembers hanging out in locker rooms as a kid while Bulls players poured champagne over his head in celebration.
He also remembers it burning his eyes and making him cry.
Some of his birthday presents were great, others inappropriate. For his seventh birthday, Dennis Rodman gave him a can of red hair dye.
So, what is something nobody knows about one of the most recognizable names on the planet?
“That’s a good question,’’ said the son, rubbing his chin. Then he smiles.
“Oh, he hates snakes.’’
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.