ORLANDO, Fla. — Marcus Jordan has always wanted to make a name for himself on the basketball court, and not be just known as the son of NBA great Michael Jordan.
He found the place to do it at Central Florida. Though not exactly known for its basketball tradition, the 6-foot-3, 205 pound guard knew UCF was the program for him.
“It was the first and last visit I made,” Jordan said. “I just loved it. The facilities were new and it was definitely a place where I could go in and play right away. I think that was the biggest thing. Me and (UCF teammate) A.J. (Rompza) sat down and said we can start something new and create our own little legacy here.
“I just wanted to come in a make an impact right away and throughout my four years leave something that UCF had never seen before.”
Less than two years later, that conversation between the best friends and former Whitney Young high school teammates in Chicago is turning into prophecy.
Jordan not only led the Knights to a Division I-best 14-0 start, but the sophomore is the face of a program in fast transition under first-year coach Donnie Jones. Jordan is making basketball relevant at the school.
After finishing non-conference play unbeaten and achieving the program’s first-ever Top 25 ranking with wins over Florida, Miami and South Florida, UCF dropped out of the poll this week following back-to-back losses. The Knights (14-2, 1-2 Conference USA) will look to recover Wednesday night when they host East Carolina (9-7, 1-1).
“They are definitely one of the big stories of the season — no question,” CBS Sports college basketball analyst Seth Davis said. “Marcus may not be the freakish athlete that his dad was, and nobody is, but he’s definitely a capable scorer that is making his own name.”
That individuality extends to everything about Marcus. While he has never shied away from the spotlight that comes along with being Michael Jordan’s son — Marcus is clearly his own person.
He wears No. 5, instead of his father’s famous No. 23. His forearms and biceps are stenciled with several tattoos. He also sports facial hair and goggles on the court, which are both departures from his father’s clean-shaven look in college.
Michael Jordan, owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, has been to several games in two years. He declined to be interviewed for this story, saying through the Bobcats that he didn’t want to overshadow Marcus’ success.
He doesn’t really have to worry about that, not as long as Marcus is producing results.
The shooting guard is currently leading the Knights in scoring, averaging 16.5 points, and is second in assists (3.2), while posting five, 20-point games. His scoring average is double that of his freshman year and his field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages are all up as well.
Coming out of high school, Marcus Jordan was a solid, but middle-tier college prospect at best. He posted a handful of big games at Whitney Young, but averaged just over 10 points and four rebounds a game his senior season.
He had written offers to schools like Stanford, Iowa, Miami, Butler and Toledo. Older brother Jeff was at Illinois, so going to Iowa would have allowed Marcus to join him in the Big Ten. But then-UCF coach Kirk Speraw sold him on being a member of the first recruiting class to play in the university’s new 10,000-seat arena.
Jordan earned C-USA freshman honors last season even though he was slowed some by a preseason knee injury. He was also the center of last year’s shoe flap over him wearing his father’s Jordan-brand shoes instead of the school’s contracted adidas apparel (UCF’s teams now wear Nike).
After a disappointing 15-17 season, Speraw was fired and Jones came in promising a new, faster style. To prepare, Jordan lost 15 pounds in the offseason (down from 220) and was in the gym alongside his teammates each morning taking “hundreds of shots.”
His dad offered advice over the phone.
“He was just telling me to be in shape because he knew coach Jones was bringing that up-tempo style of play,” Marcus said. Michael “knew how dedicated I was to really just getting my game to the next level. He was giving me tips and pointers whenever I had questions and stuff like that, but really he was just telling me to be focused and work hard every day, because eventually it will pay off.”
Jones, who has also had Jordan play more point guard this season, said giving him the ball late in games has been easy.
“We like him having the ball in his hands to make a score, get a foul or make a play,” Jones said. “He’s got the ability to do all three of those things and I think anytime you have that, it’s a good quality.”
Rompza, also Jordan’s roommate, said dealing with the extra attention is nothing new for Marcus.
“I think just always having it helps him the most,” Rompza said. “I sent him a text a few days ago and told him ‘You did this on your own. Just to keep it up.’ It’s just the way he goes about things. He’s not cocky. He’s not any of that. People say he’s spoiled.
“But he’s the most humble person I’ve ever met.”
Soon it will be a family affair on the court at UCF.
Jeff, who spent his first three seasons at Illinois, has transferred to UCF. He is sitting out this year after averaging 1.6 points with the Illini last season.
Marcus said having Jeff around has been a big help staying focused on just basketball this year.
“I kind of got to sit back and watch him go through everything and learned how to deal with it before I had to go through it,” Marcus said. “Just him being here as a senior and (having) his basketball IQ, if I have questions I can go to Jeff.”
As for the newfound fame for UCF and himself, he plans on taking it as it comes. But in a wide-open C-USA, leading the Knights to their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005 is clearly a goal.
“It’s definitely been different,” Jordan said. “We’ve gone from hunting teams, like UF and Miami, to now we’re the hunted. Everybody wants to boost their program by beating us. It’s kind of a mentality change for our team.
“But as for me being the leader of the team, I’m just trying to go out and play my game.”