John Denton's Knights Insider

Oct. 14, 2009

By John Denton

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From the time he first stepped foot on the campus, Marcus Jordan knew that he belonged at UCF. Here, he could be with his best friend, A.J. Rompza, and he could blend in and enjoy the anonymity that being a part of a 50,000-student campus provides.

Here, he could actually be Marcus Jordan, a freshman basketball player majoring in Hospitality Management. Here, far away from Chicago, he didn't have to be the son of legendary basketball player Michael Jordan every second of every day. He could just be him.

The peering eyes, craning necks and random curiosity will always be there for the heir to Air Jordan, but UCF these days feels so much like a haven for 18-year-old Marcus Jordan.

``Everything here is brand new to me. I just like the atmosphere so much,'' Marcus said recently. ``It's a real huge campus, you have to walk everywhere and you get a real feel for what it's like being in college.

``I felt like they wanted me here for `Marcus Jordan, the basketball player,' instead of being Michael Jordan's son. That played a big part for me.''

UCF's men's and women's basketball teams will conduct their Media Day Thursday and begin practice soon after, but Knights Insider was able to secure an exclusive interview with one of the gems from Kirk Speraw's finest recruiting class ever.

Keith Clanton, Nik Garcia, R.J. Scott and Jordan give the young, rebuilding Knights hope that they can overcome the loss of guard Jermaine Taylor, Conference USA's reigning Player of the Year and currently a member of the Houston Rockets.

UCF will have one of the nation's youngest teams this season and will lean heavily on a group of six freshmen and four sophomores. Drew Speraw is the only senior.

``We've had some injuries already that have put us behind a little bit,'' head coach Kirk Speraw said. ``We've got so much teaching to do and it's going to be a learning process every single day. We have to start from square one and build from there.''

There may be no greater name in basketball with which to build around than `JORDAN,' but you'd be hard-pressed to pick Marcus out as the son of basketball royalty. First, you notice the wire-rimmed glasses and the flat-brimmed hat pulled down low on his head. He's muscular and stocky, almost like a strong safety instead of a 6-3 shooting guard. He has a full head of hair and even occasionally sports LeBron James-modeled shorts rather than the clothing line from his famous father.

Marcus clearly isn't Michael, and he's just fine with that. He's more of a grinder on the court, preferring to shut down foes defensively while using his guile and smarts offensively to create opportunities for others.

He helped Whitney Young High School of Chicago to Illinois' Class 4A state title, leading the team in scoring in both the semifinal and state final games. But he isn't anywhere near the scorer that his father was while averaging 30.1 points per game and leading the NBA in scoring a league-record 10 times.

Marcus knows the expectations that are there, but he's fully content being the player that he is.

``I've dealt with it my whole life, so I'm used to it now,'' he said. ``But it still has its ups and downs. There are always going to be eyes on you and expectations that people want you to live up to, but I just try to play my game.''

He and brother Jeff, a former player at the University of Illinois, used to engage their dad in heated games of pick-up basketball when they weren't at NBA games. As a high school player, Marcus and his dad would often review game tapes together and tips - not to mention trash talk - would ensue.

``The first time I beat him was my sophomore year and I don't think we've played since. But he'll tell you that I never beat him,'' Marcus said with a chuckle. ``We'll watch the tape together and then we'll get into the gym afterwards and work on my game,'' Marcus continued. ``Any question I have basketball-wise, I talk to both my dad and my mom.''

It was his mom, Juanita, who played the biggest role in him picking UCF after several schools tried to enter the recruiting fray late in the process. Rompza, UCF's C-USA All-Freshman point guard, had been working behind the scenes for months, telling Marcus how great the atmosphere was and why he should join him in Orlando. One trip to campus convinced Marcus that UCF was the place for him.

Now, he's just looking to find his way on the UCF basketball team and hopefully contribute right away as a freshman. He said fans will see a player who will be defined more by his grit than his glide. He's been around the game and around his famous father forever, and that will help him make the transition from high school to the college level.

``I'm a hard-nosed, hard-working defender. I really like to get after it,'' Marcus said. ``My man is not going to be the reason that we lose a game. Offensively, I just like to get the ball into the paint and make smart decisions.''

``The game is not over until the final buzzer sounds and I take pride in that. I'm a hard worker the entire game.''

For Marcus, the game is just beginning. And he couldn't be happier with his choice of UCF, a place where he can just be himself and find his way.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.