Aaron Jordan will be the only four-year Illini player to graduate and play out his entire eligibility at the University of Illinois from the 2018-20.
Last year, Leron Black left a year of eligibility on the table, and Michael Finke transferred to Grand Canyon. Mark Alstork was a senior, but he only spent his final year of college ball in Champaign.
This year’s seniors are Aaron Jordan and another graduate transfer, Adonis De La Rosa, who previously played at Kent State.
Next year, Kipper Nichols could play out his eligibility at Illinois, and while he would have officially played exclusively at Illinois, he did practice at Tulane for a week, which means he was at Tulane for a half year, and at Illinois for three and a half.
Now, you may be saying “Jeez, Matt you really bent over backwards to fabricate this seemingly meaningless statistic” — and you would be right, but I still find it interesting and merely another way to illustrate how college basketball has changed. It’s almost stranger if a player doesn’t leave early or transfer schools.
So, I say all of that to commend Aaron Jordan. He stuck with Illinois throughout a coaching change, his entire recruiting class transferring and two losing seasons.
I’m not here to chastise a player for leaving the program or doing what’s best for him and his career. Personally, I love the shift toward the player empowerment that is currently happening at all levels of basketball.
However, as a die hard fan of Illinois Basketball, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t cool to see someone like Aaron Jordan grow up in Champaign, and show that same love for the Illini that so many of us have. That’s why we all love college sports.
We probably saw Aaron Jordan take his collegiate “leap” last year.
Jordan started unbelievably fast in non-conference play and lived up to his reputation as a three-point shooter. He was automatic from three to start the season against weaker competition, making a three pointer in the first nine games and 12 of his first 13 games. During that stretch he made 30 of his 50 attempts, good for an unbelievable 60% from distance. That’s an unsustainable pace, but it was undoubtedly the most successful stretch of Jordan’s Illini career.
The problem was that when he came back to earth, he really crashed. In the last 19 games of the season Jordan made a total of 14 three pointers at a clip at 31%, which was much more in line with his career numbers over his first two years at Illinois.
There’s a few reasons this happened. For one, opposing teams learned who Aaron Jordan was and the top note on the scouting report became “don’t leave #23 alone”. The competition also stiffened. Those final 19 games consisted almost entirely of Big Ten opponents. The length and quickness of Big Ten defenses is just different, and while Jordan is certainly a plus shooter, his release is a bit slow and low. That just means that he needs be wide open to get his shot off, and the combination of being near the scouting report against better athletes and coaches is going to mean far fewer shots. So while regression was certainly natural and inevitable, it’s not a mystery why Jordan’s shooting fell off dramatically.
Offensively, Jordan is an experienced and smart player. He can move the ball and find the cutters in this system, and obviously his best skill is his three-point shooting. The issue is that he’s incredibly one-dimensional. Jordan, to put it bluntly, can’t put the ball on the floor. It’s just not his game, and if he tries to dribble it’s probably going to end with a turnover. That leaves him pretty limited to spot up threes.
On defense Jordan is pretty reliable. He’s not the fastest or strongest, but he’s long enough and tough enough to be a positive contributor. He can be trusted to switch guard the 2-4 in most cases and has really turned into a great rebounder, and that you have to give Jordan a lot of credit for. Last year, he accepted the challenge of picking up the slack on the boards for the undersized Illini and he did a really good job. He has a nose for the ball and goes hard to the glass every play.
Jordan finished his junior season as the team’s fifth leading scorer and fourth leading rebounder.
Lead. Aaron Jordan has to lead. And based on Brad Underwood’s comments at media day, it appears he has taken on that role. Last year, Underwood commented how he was waiting for someone to step up, take responsibility and be the team’s vocal leader. And it never really happened. Jordan has to take charge and show the eight (!!) new players the ropes, make sure Kipper isn’t taking any nights off, and still help develop DMW and Trent.
He also has to be ready—and adaptable. Aaron Jordan is going to start some games, come off the bench some games, and potentially not play in some games. And he’s going to be asked to play on the wing and then asked to play some small ball power forward for short stretches. But when his number is called, Illinois needs him to be dependable and consistent.
Hopefully he doesn’t have to be the team’s fifth leading scorer, but he will need to shoot the three. He ended last year as a 46% three point shooter; if he can shoot over 40% from three again, and have his production be a little more evenly spread out over the course of the year, that would be a huge success.
Jordan averaged 3.4 rebounds per game last season, if he can average .5 to 1 more rebound per game in similar minutes that year, that would really help a young and thin Illini frontcourt.
He averaged 20 minutes per game last season and I would expect him to get similar time this season, primarily off the bench. 20 MPG, 8 PPG and 4-5 RPG sounds about right for Aaron Jordan. Jordan needs to be the ultimate role player, and if he can provide something similar to what Duncan Robinson provided Michigan the last few seasons, that would be an incredible end to cap off his Illini career.
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