LaVall Jordan has a way with guards

Michigan's assistant coach continues to get the most out of young backcourts

Originally Published: December 3, 2013
By Chantel Jennings | ESPN.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan is a man of details.

Ask him about the national title game last season or when he was a middle schooler and his hometown high school played Chris Webber and Detroit Country Day High School or when he played Shane Battier his senior year of high school in the Michigan state playoffs or the next game he'll coach -- No. 22 Michigan at No. 10 Duke, Tuesday night -- and his rolodex of a memory will shine.

He knows names and heights, scouting reports and histories. He'll ramble off where this guard or this center went on to play. He knows who was up or down at halftime, who led scorers, whether that foul at the end should've been called or not.

But his first game he ever coached? That's a blur.

[+] EnlargeLaVall Jordan
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioMichigan assistant coach LaVall Jordan also coached at Butler and Iowa.

He was 25. The game was Butler-South Dakota State. The former Bulldog star had been promoted from coordinator of basketball operations to an assistant coach before the start of that season.

But that first game?

His wife either went into labor shortly before or after that game. The timing of it all is still foggy. He was definitely at the hospital right after the game, though.

Mainly, there's just one thing he remembers about that game.

"That's when I started drinking coffee," he said with a laugh as he took a sip from one of the cups on his desk.

Outside of the occasional coffee cup, his desk is lined with photos of his wife and daughters (he has three now, whose births all line up with different coaching moves from Butler to Iowa and then to Michigan). Next to the coffee and family photos are photos of the point guards he has coached.

Jordan, who specifically coaches the Wolverines' guards, has been an unsung hero of sorts for the Michigan coaching staff, getting 18- and 19-year-olds to become veteran game managers in limited time.

Going into his fourth year at Michigan, Jordan has yet to have a point guard older than a sophomore. Still, the Wolverines have gone 81-34 in his time on the staff.

"We're so much into individual development all year long -- become a player instead of running a play," Beilein said. "He fits right into our philosophy of developing this talent every day in some small way and the team will develop on its own."

From Darius Morris to Trey Burke to Spike Albrecht and Derrick Walton, Jordan has helped Michigan find success with a position that generally requires a seasoned upperclassman.

There isn't an exact recipe that Jordan has developed with his constant supply of youth and lack of time, but he has grown to know and love the general learning curve.

It's different for every player -- no two will ever match up identically -- but there are overlaps and key points along each path.

Trust comes first and is key, Jordan explains, because without it a young player is more likely to rely on what has worked in the past rather than what Jordan has coached in their short time together.

Then there are the points when players begin to really understand the importance of film study, the weight room, extra conditioning and their diets. There's the point when a player proves himself to his teammates and when he puts the team on his back.

"It's different for each guy -- that's the good thing about it," Jordan said. "We've all had our experiences, but I think you're coaching young guys and you're saying, 'We've seen guys get it. You're going to get it.'"

One of the points Jordan has always enjoyed seeing in his point guards is when his attention to detail rubs off on his guards.

"He emphasizes the importance of us playing well and playing smart," Albrecht said. "That's one thing that drives him nuts, when you play mindless basketball out there."

[+] EnlargeLaVall Jordan
AP Photo/Paul SancyaJordan is in charge of coaching the Wolverines' guards.

But it happens, and Jordan knows that. And when those moments happen, Jordan knows it's most important to keep his calm with the young players.

Beilein has complimented Jordan's poise in those moments. When a coach is constantly working with first- and second-year guys, there are going to be moments when they try to get away with the things that worked for them in high school ball and AAU.

Those things don't work at the college level, and Jordan knows that. The players eventually learn it, too, thanks to Jordan and how he approaches each "freshman moment" with a level head.

"He has a way about his teaching," Beilein said. "I can't recall hearing him raise his voice in practice."

"It's a big sigh of relief knowing that, of course, I'm going to have my moments," Walton added. "But he has already been through it and he knows what to do in the situation."

As those freshman moments become fewer and fewer, Jordan sees his players growing up, learning the nuances of the game and becoming better students of it.

With each of those photographs around his office, like he does with past games, he can pick out moments and details of each player, moments that exemplified each of them in their time at Michigan.

He remembers Morris' first two 3-pointers at Michigan State as a sophomore, in a game in which the Spartans' scouting report said Morris wasn't a very good outside shooter.

He remembers a preseason workout before Burke's freshman year when he hit a shot to win a scrimmage.

Jordan had jokingly told Burke that it was lucky, that he wasn't a guy who hit those shots. Mostly, he remembers Burke's reaction as he looked at Jordan and said, "Coach, I win. That's what I do."

He remembers Albrecht's first-half performance in the title game, but even more so, Jordan remembers Albrecht's 16 points and six assists in the first exhibition game of 2012-13 when Burke was sitting out for a one-game suspension.

Eventually, Walton, and every other guard who comes through Michigan and plays for Jordan, will have those moments.

And, most certainly, Jordan will be able to give detailed accounts of each.

Chantel Jennings | email

Oregon/Pac-12 reporter

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.