Former Penn basketball great Mike Jordan back in town as a Drexel assistant coach | Mike Jensen
Jordan was a high school star in Philly before he played for many years as a pro overseas.
It’s been 20 years, but you don’t forget the name. Mike Jordan — no need to call him Michael — used to light up the Palestra for the Penn Quakers, was Ivy League player of the year in 2000.
After a long professional career in Europe, and a successful stint as Penn backcourt mate Matt Langel’s Colgate assistant, Jordan is back, just down the block from the Palestra, hired this year by Zach Spiker as a Drexel assistant.
A natural fit, said Spiker, whose Dragons are off to a 3-1 start. The two men come from different branches of the same coaching tree. Jordan played for Fran Dunphy at Penn, when current Quakers coach Steve Donahue was a Dunphy assistant. Spiker, meanwhile, was a Donahue assistant at Cornell.
“I was just looking for a good basketball coach,” Spiker said this week. “You want to have someone bring value to the program, period. That can come in so many different ways. It wasn’t, ‘I need you to come to Drexel and be this.’ … ‘Come to Drexel and be Mike. Be you.’ "
Saturday’s game at the DAC against La Salle will be the first city game in 20 years for Jordan, who grew up in Germantown.
“It’s a huge game for me,” said Jordan, who goes back to his childhood and the Sonny Hill League with Explorers coach Ashley Howard. “Huge for us. I played in the Big 5. I know how the city looks at Drexel. This is a big game for us, to see where we are as a team. This is bragging rights right here.”
Two decades away, for a guy who went to Pickett Middle School on Wayne Avenue in Germantown, then a year at Germantown High, then on to Abington Friends.
“I don’t think he even remembers — we played against each other,” Spiker said. “I took a postgrad year at the Hill School. I’d love to find a box score.”
Hmm, maybe The Inquirer ran that box score. Not so fast, Spiker joked.
“Mike was waaaay better than me,” Spiker said. “I kind of like the unknown.”
Spiker said that he was excited when Jordan accepted the job, that he’s on track to be a college head coach.
“I love Hamilton,” Jordan said of the upstate New York town that is home to Colgate, his professional home since 2012, and home to his wife and three daughters. “I think Hamilton is a great place. My family loved it there. It was hard to leave. But an opportunity to come home. My wife is from New Jersey, just over the bridge. She’s sacrificed a lot for my career. Just to get back to the city where I grew up …”
Jordan’s oldest was born in Germany. He had professional stops in France, Spain, Venezuela, Germany, Latvia, Germany again, Italy, Belgium, Greece and Israel, and then five more stops in Germany. That’s the typical life of an overseas pro. There was one two-year contract, Jordan said, but one-year deals are the norm.
“He has a good feel for the art of being new,” Spiker said of Jordan.
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That goes back to high school, Jordan said, moving to a completely new environment at Abington Friends. That’s not to say Jordan simply tries to blend in.
“I’m not quiet,” Jordan said. “I wasn’t a quiet player. Dunph can attest to that. He called me a maniac at times. I’m a little old-school.”
Asked about being back full time in his hometown, Jordan said, “The landscape has changed a lot since I was playing. AAU is much bigger now than when I left. But it’s changed in a way that doesn’t really affect me — all the guys who are running AAU programs are guys I played against or with growing up. I already know all the players.”
Meaning the coaches, the power brokers.
“I might not know all the actual players,” Jordan said. “But knowing the coaches, that will help us. Philly is Philly, you know what I mean?”
Working for Spiker, there was a comfort level, since he’d paid attention to Cornell when Donahue went up there, then Colgate played against Army in the Patriot League when Spiker was the head coach there.
As for Jordan’s teaching style …
“Very demanding,” Jordan said. “I am hard on you. I’m going to tell you the truth all the time. That’s just how I operate. At Colgate, they hated me in the beginning. By the time they graduated, they realized it was all love.”
That’s about as Philly as it gets. In this city, the right circles, the name Mike Jordan still means something. If his new guys don’t know about his Big 5 Hall of Fame days, he tells them, “Do your research. It’s all there.”
Just do some proper Googling.
“If not, they can get the other dude,” Jordan said. “If they don’t believe, I can still lace them up and get out there.”