As the lone returning senior on the roster, Aaron Jordan’s contributions to the 2018-19 Fighting Illini team will go way deeper than the surface. The coaches aren’t counting on AJ to take a giant leap in scoring, instead, they’re counting on Jordan to continue grabbing the young guards and including them in the breakfast club.
Apart from briefly leading the nation in three-point percentage, the most impressive part of Aaron Jordan’s junior season was an anecdote Brad Underwood told early on.
Apparently, while Jordan was the talk of the team, he was waking up early and grabbing Da’Monte Williams to pull him into Ubben early for extra shooting practice. Those extra reps before the rest of the campus is awake tells a louder story than any game log.
Aaron Jordan isn’t going to be a first round draft pick, without big additions to next year's roster he might not play in an NCAA Tournament — but he’s further cementing the cultural foundation that Underwood hopes to set in Champaign.
And for that, we should be thankful.
As a strong foundational piece to the rebuild, Jordan is the hardworking model actively creating that repeatable framework for the program. While Trent Frazier and Ayo Dosunmu will be the two most talented guards on next years roster, Jordan will be the veteran that checks underclassmen are working to his standards. While Jordan might average 6.5 points next year, his net worth should include improvements in the guards he’ll influence. That of course will be tough to measure, but should be commended regardless.
When simply discussing the player, the real Aaron Jordan lies somewhere in-between the flame throwing three-point shooter Illini fans were treated to in the non-conference, and the gritty but struggling guard they saw the rest of the year.
His shooting confidence and stroke never wained. His ability to separate from the defense and shoot over it did as the competition and scouting improved in the Big Ten.
Defensively, Jordan is a long guard, and he gets his hands on a lot of basketballs lazily traveling through passing lanes. There are a few reasons that this Illini team forced turnovers at an insane rate. One was scheme, one was necessity, but AJ’s ability to spider the wing was certainly a contributing factor. Long arms and effort isn’t something that needs offensive spacing, just effort, and that’s never in question from No. 23.
So how does Jordan overcome physical limitations in his senior campaign? By weighing those physical limitations with stronger mental habits, developed in second full offseason with Brad Underwood’s offense and principles in action. The full understanding of Underwood’s offense and the spots that’ll free up his shot, the more opportunity to let it fly and torch the nets.
The more he torches the nets, the louder the standing ovation will be on senior night 2019.
If Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Ayo Dosunmu are leading Illinois into the second round of the NCAA Tournament in a couple years, I hope that Aaron Jordan is somewhere smiling, and someone is there to pat him on the back.