By Amy Shipley
Friday, December 24, 2010; 12:41 AM
IN SUNRISE, FLA. After sophomore guard Marcus Jordan misfired on a jump shot minutes into a Central Florida game against Miami last Saturday, a fan sitting a few rows from the court taunted gleefully.
"You're not your father!" the man said. "Did you get a DNA test? Are you sure?"
Heckling rains every time the Knights hit the road, and Jordan's expression never changes. His head never turns. He knows he lacks his famous father's size and ability to hover by the rim. He wears silver Air Jordan shoes and a black Air Jordan headband, but this heir Jordan did not get all of his father's gifts.
In many ways, Jordan isn't like Mike at all. He sports black-rimmed glasses, a goatee and mustache, and tattoos up and down both arms.
Yet on Saturday, he received a congratulatory text message from his father, Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan, minutes after using a hard-nosed, workmanlike effort to fuel a second-half comeback that resulted in a 84-78 victory. The win gave UCF a 10-0 record. It also set the stage for the Knights, who toppled No. 16 Florida on Dec. 1, to climb into the top 25 for the first time in the program's history, entering the rankings at No. 24.
Jordan, who at 6 feet 3 stands three inches shorter than his father, scored a game-high 23 points and dished out five assists, mixing level-headed, aggressive play with flashes of cold-hearted competitiveness that looked eerily familiar. He showed a flair for penetrating and getting the ball near the rim, if not always in the net, and pushing the ball upcourt. He earned the game's most valuable player award despite limping off with just more than a minute remaining with a sprained left ankle. (He did not play until the second half of Wednesday's win over U-Mass., finishing with seven points.)
"I don't think anybody could fit in those shoes as well as he does," said Knights point guard A.J. Rompza, who has known Jordan since their high school days together at Chicago's Whitney M. Young, the same magnet school first lady Michelle Obama attended.
Plenty of UCF fans drove the 21/2 hours down Florida's Turnpike from Orlando for Saturday's game, so the occasional hooting was masked by cheers from enthusiastic Knights' supporters. A true away game, Rompza said, usually involves incessant chants reminding Jordan of exactly who he is not.
Said Rompza: "I always tell him, 'I don't know how you deal with it.'"Love of the game
From age three or four, when he stood in a celebratory Bulls' locker room with his brother, sister and mother, covering his eyes to keep out the spray of champagne, Marcus Jordan understood he had a remarkable dad and unusual opportunities. It never crossed his mind that extending the family tradition, which seemed so gloriously special and fun, could be a burden.
"I always wanted to play basketball," Marcus Jordan said. "It wasn't something like my dad was forcing me or pushing me . . . It was just me, loving playing basketball."
Besides, it was his older brother whom he idolized. Jeffrey Jordan, who is sitting out this season after transferring to UCF from Illinois over the summer, dominated play when the two brothers competed as little boys. The pair shot soft basketballs at kid-size rims situated at either end of their playroom, which happened to have a carpet imprinted with a mini Bulls' court.
When the Jordan boys outgrew the toy hoops, they had other options to hone their skills. Their parents' secluded, 29,000-square-foot home in Chicago's northern suburbs included indoor and outdoor basketball courts (also a tennis court and putting green).
Marcus vividly remembers the lone time that Jeffrey, then a teenager, beat their father in a pickup game of one-on-one. Michael Jordan was much too competitive to give away games; Marcus never once defeated his dad.
"I wanted," he said, "to be like my brother."
Jeffrey, two years older than Marcus, first stepped out from the family estate into the public spotlight, emerging as a talented player at Chicago's Loyola Academy. Jeffrey Jordan chose No. 32 - the reverse of his father's 23 - for his uniform jersey (he later opted for No. 13); Marcus, meantime, settled on No. 5 - two plus three.
Marcus, who turns 20 on Christmas Eve, admitted he got some exceedingly nice gifts for his birthday in his youth, and he drives a Range Rover around the UCF campus now. He spelled out his personal wealth all too clearly in August, when he tweeted that he had lost $50,000 during a trip to Las Vegas. At the time, he, his brother and Rompza were visiting his father's fantasy basketball camp. He soon regretted the light-hearted - and careless - electronic remark.
"That," he said, "was definitely a learning experience . . . It's always been in the back of my head from both parents: Watch what you are doing. People are always watching."
Yet the most powerful message they sent was that though he would never need a summer job, he would have to work to establish his own name. Teammate David Diakite - a Washington native who attended National Christian Academy - said Jordan, who some expected would take a limousine to classes, has shown no signs of entitlement.
"He's a great teammate," Diakite said. "You'd think having a lot of money, having a million dollars, he'd be snobby or things like that. But he's the complete opposite. . . He's a great person . . . and his basketball IQ is very high."
Rompza said Jordan, a hospitality major who said he would like to open his own nightclub some day, donates his old sneakers to Goodwill and picks up the tab at restaurants or other venues for teammates he knows are short on cash, but "is never flaunting; he never brags."
"My parents, being the great parents they were, made sure I wasn't a spoiled, snotty kid," Jordan said. "I was raised to be humble and thankful for everything I have. I was privileged, but not spoiled. It wasn't like I got everything I wanted."Taking shape
Rompza persuaded Jordan, whom he calls his best friend, to join him at UCF. Jordan said he was enamored with the new campus facilities, Orlando's weather, the rising program and the college scene.
He said he and Rompza had visions of helping to put UCF, which has an enrollment of 56,000 students, on the national basketball map. When Coach Donnie Jones arrived last spring from Marshall, he was curious to see what he would get from an offspring of Michael Jordan and wasn't disappointed. Jordan lost 18 pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons and dropped about 4 percentage points of body fat. After averaging eight points per game last year, he stayed on campus all summer, practicing with his teammates.
This year, he is averaging 15.2 points per game, second-best for the Knights.
"He has incredible drive," Jones said. "He's very focused and very competitive. He's a very good team player. He understands what it takes to be part of a winning program - that's what I'm sure he's gotten from his father."
Michael Jordan shows up on campus every once in a while to watch practice, and he's addressed the team a few times, telling the Knights, among other things, how important it is to train with the intensity they hope to play with. Jones said he's never gotten an unwanted piece of advice from the elder Jordan.
"We're cordial," Jones said. "He's not telling me how to coach my team. . . He just wants his sons to be treated like everyone else, pushed to be the best that they can be."
Jeffrey will join his younger brother on the court next year. By then, Marcus Jordan hopes, UCF will have made the NCAA tournament.
That's the goal that tantalizes him now, he said. Beating his father, now 47, in one of those one-on-one matchups doesn't even meet his definition of a real challenge these days.
"I'm pretty confident I would win that game," Jordan said, grinning widely. "He's up there now in age. He can't move like he did in the '80s and '90s."