FORT WAYNE, Ind.— Emotions ran high in the memorable Saturday evening matchup between U16 AAU programs Playground Elite and Illinois Celtics.
In the midst of controversy, Celtics shooting guard Aaron Jordan kept himself in check. He likely demonstrated the same traits that have attracted attention from Northwestern and coach Tavaras Hardy.
This is how it went down, according to Jordan and observers: With the Celtics leading by 10 and just more than one minute remaining, guard Mark Winston was engaged in a scuffle with an opposing forward. Incensed by the call–and the general officiating, which seemed quite good–the Playground Elite coach picked up his second technical foul.
Even more outraged, Jordan said the opposing coach threatened to pull his team off the floor. The refs couldn’t really stop him. So he did and the game was called, putting a slight dampener (but humorous touch) on an excellent performance from Jordan and teammate Joseph Toye.
“Have you ever been a part of something like that?” I (sort of) jokingly asked Jordan, knowing that the pressures of high school ball can get, well, weird.
“No, this is the first time, actually,” he deadpanned. Gleaming after his strong 21-point performance, it was Aaron Jordan’s day to shine. Given his strong skillset and dynamic ability, it’s only a matter of time before swarms of D-1 coaches take notice.
Jordan knocked down 19 of his 21 points in the first half, during which he drained four consecutive triples. Shut down in the second half by Playground Elite’s aggressive defense, he stayed focused and led the team through adversity. Late in the game, with his opponent fouling and his team out of rhythm, Jordan kept increasing communication between his teammates. He wanted the win. His team knew it, and Jordan helped carry them to the final 16 of the Spiece Run N Slam.
For one, the 6-4 prospect can create off the dribble. Unlike some set-and-shoot players who rely on their teammates to facilitate, Jordan can pull up or blow by defenders. He went to the line seven times, as the opponents couldn’t figure out ways to slow him down.
“My coaches always tell me: ‘If you’re feeling it, pull it.’ That’s what I did,” Jordan said.
And, when the other coaches–as long as they lasted–tried to stop Jordan, he leaned on Toye. The 6-7 wingman, so to speak, erupted for 24 points.
“I love playing with Toye,” Jordan said. “He just came off of a track meet, and still came out and gave us the energy.”
Toye certainly can run, which at times manifested itself in out-of-control play. Other Celtics struggled to slow the pace in the waning minutes, with an energized Playground Elite team attempting to pull out the comeback.
Then, Jordan simply settled them down. It was an impressive leadership display in a venue where individual talents–and not intangibles–are normally recognized.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” Jordan said. “Our team is mentally tough.”
“Mentally tough?” In AAU ball? Someone, please, sign him up. Assistant coach Tavaras Hardy seems fairly eager. In another evaluation that looks strong, Hardy saw Jordan play in Pekin and has maintained communication.
“He said he’s looking forward to seeing me play in the next couple of years,” Jordan said. “He knew I was going to be a good player.”
That faith could pay dividends if they offer. I’m no talent scout, but they should. Jordan said that Chris Collins plans to watch him in July. Meanwhile, other Big Ten schools including Purdue, Iowa and Wisconsin are beginning to express interest.
Why would Collins wait until July?
He thought for a moment: “Dead periods … The schedule’s all messed up.”
Oh, he’s a keeper.
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