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The legend of Jared Jordan

From the time he saw a tiny kid whipping passes to men, the author knew he was watching a basketball prodigy. Now he is convinced Marist star Jared Jordan may be the next Steve Nash

Posted: Friday May 25, 2007 2:16PM; Updated: Friday May 25, 2007 9:36PM
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Marist's Jared Jordan led the nation in assists in each of the last two seasons.
Marist's Jared Jordan led the nation in assists in each of the last two seasons.
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By Rand Richards Cooper, Special to SI.com

One summer day 11 years ago, I'd just moved to Hartford, Conn., and on my third afternoon I found my way up the block to the park and a pickup hoop game. It was your typical city playground tableau, a bunch of African-American guys in their teens and 20s, plus me, thirtysomething white guy. And this little 11-year-old white kid. The kid was tiny. Why are they letting this munchkin play? I wondered.

Then the game started. Munchkin brings the ball up, and I'm drifting through the lane, when wham! -- something smacks off my hands. A perfect pass from near half-court, threaded through several players. Oops.

"You better be ready," a guy laughed. "That's Jared."

An hour later I was headed home, shaking my head. I just saw this tiny kid do some amazing things on the court, I told my wife. I'm gonna watch him and see what happens. If you followed college basketball this season, you know what happened. The munchkin who surprised me on the court that day grew up to be Jared Jordan of Marist College, a point guard with a brainy, aggressive style and a considerable gift for passing the ball. Jordan splashed into the national conversation in last November's Old Spice Classic, in which he led mid-major Marist to a win over Minnesota and a close loss to Arkansas, snagging the tournament MVP award and prompting ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla to breathlessly gush, "Is Jared Jordan another John Stockton?" Jordan led the nation in assists this year and last, the most prolific Division I passer since Avery Johnson; all winter the buzz about the "best point guard you've never heard of" had NBA scouts downloading Mapquest directions to Poughkeepsie to check out his game. Some of that buzz will carry over to next week's pre-draft camp in Orlando, to which Jordan has been invited.

There are questions about Jordan's game -- no ups, not strong enough or quick enough laterally for defense, an inconsistent three-point shot. But one Eastern Conference scout with whom I spoke has another take. "We're bereft of really good point guards in the league," he said. "We have plenty of guys who can shoot, but consider passing secondary. Jordan's the ideal leader. He has complete control of the game, and his team is so much better when he's out there. He looks like the real thing to me."

Me, I've been watching Jordan ever since that summer day in the park. As it turned out, his parents, Sarah and Mike -- that's right, Michael Jordan -- lived two streets over from us, and their kids went to the private school, Kingswood-Oxford, where my wife taught. K-O was not exactly a basketball Mecca, but Jared took its low-flying basketball program on a magic carpet ride. He won the starting point guard job as an 8th grader; by his junior year his dominating presence had the team's coach, Garth Adams, shuffling his schedule to take on prep-school basketball mills and state-champ public high schools.

The games in Kingswood's tiny gym had a carnival-like atmosphere. The PA announcer dubbed Jared "The Magician," and we in the stands oohed and aahed at the show. Jared diving for a loose ball and dribbling while on his knees, Marques Haynes-style, as two opponents swiped at it in vain. A halfcourt shot tossed up at the halftime buzzer -- and getting nothing but net. No-look passes that left your mouth hanging open.

Jared himself was a modest kid off the court, and once told me he disliked the "Magician" nickname. But it captured his game perfectly: the sleight-of-hand and misdirection, the ease with which he tricked opponents. One time I saw him make a three-point shot, then steal a pass at midcourt for an uncontested layup, then steal the subsequent inbounds pass and lay that in. Seven points in 10 seconds. "What just happened?" a guy sitting next to me said. Abracadabra.

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