The legend of Jared Jordan (cont.)
Posted: Friday May 25, 2007 2:16PM; Updated: Friday May 25, 2007 9:36PM
A friend chided me for "falling in love" with a teenage athlete. There's some truth to that. I've spent most of my career involved in literature, and it strikes me that you fall in love with a brilliant basketball player the way you do, if books are your thing, with a brilliant writer. It's like reading Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury for the first time, or James Joyce's The Dead -- the amazement you feel at a vision that seems a little more than mortal. And especially with a point guard, who authors his team's offense. You fall for the startling insights and unexpected connections, the gift of seeing things in their totality. Garth Adams told me he'd often watch Jared make a pass and wonder where the hell he was throwing the ball. "Then all of a sudden it lands in a teammate's hands and he lays it in the basket, and you go, Oh, that's where he was throwing it."
So it isn't the kid, really, but rather the gift in the kid: You fall for that gift, and then you stake a large hope on it. Probably too large. There's something extravagant in what a community demands of its high school sports hero-symbolically defending us against marauding outsiders, and also, in a sense, justifying us to ourselves, by convincing us we have glimpsed genius. Watching Jared singlehandedly keep his overmatched team in the game against a powerhouse opponent was almost freakish, like those videos of someone pulling a giant semi truck with his teeth. We had the feeling he could do anything.
Come college recruiting time, however, a 6-foot white kid from a suburban private school made nary a blip on the big-program radar. In the end, just three offers came in, the best of them from Marist, a mid-major backwater known solely as the answer to the basketball trivia question, Where did Rik Smits play in college?
We Jordan watchers felt dissed and wounded. The big world was trash-talking us. The greatest star in your cosmos, it taunted us, is barely a pinprick in ours. You don't want to believe that taunt -- but part of you does believe it, and you are humbled. There's something Homeric to this humbling, going back to the days of wandering bards who awed villagers with songs of the distant dangerous world and its monsters. What did we really know, after all, about the realms of elite college basketball?
Jared worked hard to show the big schools they'd been wrong. Early in his freshman year, he cracked Marist's starting lineup; by midseason he was leading it in minutes. I'd run into a Kingswood friend at the gym. Is he showing these bastards, we'd say to each other, or what? In Connecticut this means one thing -- making Jim Calhoun sorry he never looked at you. How about our boy going head-to-head against Chris Thomas of Notre Dame and playing him evenly? Or scoring 32 against Iona as a sophomore? Or dishing out 11 assists to beat St. John's in Madison Square Garden?
Even Calhoun may have noticed when Jared conquered the Hartford Pro-Am summer league. The Pro-Am is our Rucker League, packed with NBA prospects, its up-tempo games played before rowdy urban crowds; the list of players over the years includes Marcus Camby, Ray Allen, Michael Finley, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng. Last summer, as point guard for Jive Records, Jared's squad lost in the semis of the tourney (against a team headed by Ryan Gomes of the Celtics) but still won the league MVP award.
And then came Thanksgiving and the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. Three Marist games in four days, all on ESPN. For Jordan fanatics around Hartford's West End it was feast and feast again. When Jared followed Orlando with a two-game spree of 56 points and 18 assists against Old Dominion and Richmond, the accolades came pouring in. Dick Vitale named him his Player of the Week. Internet NBA draft sites began including him on their lists of darkhorse first-rounders. Around Christmas I ran into Mike Jordan, out walking the family's German shepherd. Life had gotten crazy, he said. Agents were calling daily. Nine scouts were headed to Jared's next game. "He's the same player he was six months ago, but now everyone's paying attention."
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