Among the group was UCF’s Kirk Speraw, the only man capable of saying he successfully won a recruiting battle for one of Michael Jordan’s sons.
Jordan’s eldest, Jeff, is wrapping up his career on scholarship as a solid contributor for Illinois, but began his career there as a preferred walk-on. Younger brother Marcus, now 19 years old, was better regarded coming out of high school and ultimately fled the midwest for the Orlando-based University of Central Florida, following best buddy A.J. Rompza and signing with Speraw ahead of other overtures.
He just completed a freshman season where he landed on Conference USA’s All-Freshman team after leading the Knights in scoring in league play (10.8 ppg), showing significant improvement after a scoreless debut where he visibly struggled with a then-undisclosed injury. Turns out, kid’s got more game than most originally thought he would.
His jumper is suspect, but then again, so was dad’s when he was getting started.
Sorry, that was irresponsible. Shouldn’t go there. Marcus Jordan wears No. 5, not 23, and will have an opportunity to grow into a very nice Division I player. He’s got pop’s will to win and doesn’t fear the big moment, half the battle on the amateur level, but he’s got a ceiling.
Still, he needs a coach.
If you’re dad, haven’t you already placed a few calls? If you’re UCF, aren’t you asking him to? Begging him to?
I’m in a tough spot with this column. In the interest of full disclosure, Speraw is a favorite of mine. I was a student at UCF when the program was a guppy swimming in something called the Trans America Athletic Conference. Speraw, sleeves rolled up, guided the school through its first waltzes in the Big Dance.
Took on the Big Dog, Purdue’s Glenn Robinson. Marcus Camby’s UMass squad went through the Knights first en route to the 1996 Final Four, the last time the Minutemen have reached those heights.
In his 17 years, Speraw helped the school transition from a tiny gym where cheers reverberated off a garage door on the opposite end of the floor to a sparkling new on-campus facility on par with most in Conference USA. His final season began with a win over that same UMass program that once throttled his, with His Airness watching him coach his kid from a skybox in a building few dreamed would ever exist when he took the job.
It’s sad to see him go.
Speraw carried the baton for UCF like a world-class distance-runner. His contributions will forever be remembered and appreciated by those who noticed.
Problem is, too few did over the years. Speraw wasn’t flashy. He won because he’s a tremendous coach of overachievers, but as athletic director Keith Tribble eloquently put it, “if you’re going to be competitive and you’re going to win championships, it’s kind of hard to win the Kentucky Derby with a donkey.”
UCF dreams of competing in the Big East within the next decade. The current talent base is young and improving, but wouldn’t win a game in the Big East. That’s not shameful. Miami went through the same growing pains early in its progression up the ladder. South Florida had been a doormat up until this past season, as Stan Heath continues his fine work.
Tribble believes Speraw isn’t the guy. He’s looking for someone to run the anchor leg.
Hopefully he’s getting input from Michael Jordan as to who that is.
Save all the snide remarks about his mismanagement of the Wizards and lack of success with the Bobcats, but Jordan is still someone whose opinion regarding all matters related to basketball should be adhered to.
The Orlando Sentinel inquired as to whether Jordan got preferential treatment in being informed about Speraw’s dismissal, to which Tribble replied that Marcus, like any other team member, learned of the news with everyone else. I hope that’s not true, because it would mean my beloved university is being short-sighted.
Jordan should get preferential treatment. Adidas stepped down as the school’s athletic supplier because he refused to wear their logo. By all means, carry the charade on for public consumption, but behind closed doors, you better be hitting up M.J. on the cell for his list of preferred candidates and working on down the line.
Tribble has talked about having a list, and it’s no doubt a good one. Before landing at Alabama, former Florida assistant Anthony Grant was a name whispered as a potential replacement, and I’m sure there are plenty of other wonderful names to turn to for Jordan’s approval.
Because let’s be real, no one in the country cares who tops Tribble’s list. Michael Jordan’s list? Of people he’d like coaching his son? That might interest some.
At minimum, we’ll get to find out if Dean Smith wants out of retirement or whether old teammates Buzz Peterson and Matt Doherty would rate worthy. Come to think of it, how about Worthy? Well, he seems to like his broadcasting gig. Seriously, who would it be? A former teammate? Doug Collins? Chris Collins?
I understand the need to downplay Marcus Jordan’s involvement in all of this. He’s just a kid. You don’t want to alienate his teammates. You want him to have a “normal” college experience.
Yet you don’t want him to go through four years playing with donkeys.
Simply put, this is about winning. He wants his school to be successful. Jordan wants his son to be successful. He’s got to look at the on-court product his son is involved with and see potential for more. A record of 15-17 didn’t cut it. If you’re Jordan brand, might as well be Jordan brand.
Exploitation is everywhere in college athletics. This would just be par for the course, and from an ethical standpoint, not all that egregious. All you’re doing is asking the most famous basketball icon in the world who he’d like to see coaching his boy, then going out, getting that guy and telling everyone about it.
Asked about whether the school could scrounge up the cash to haul in a high-level recruiter, Tribble responded, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get the right person and to move forward with the program. So my answer is that yes I do, yes we will.”
Hopefully he’s got unabashedly following Jordan’s lead under that “whatever it takes” umbrella. The University of Illinois may not have needed a little M.J. juice to be successful, but the university that used to send out releases asking to be referred to as UCF instead of Central Florida to shed the directional school stigma certainly does.
After all, what would be a better recruiting sell to kids everywhere than the following: “Michael Jordan hand-picked me to coach his son.”
Think that might be of interest to a blue-chipper that lands at the Jordan Classic undecided?
I’m not saying this has to be some ESPN-covered circus. I’m not saying Tribble has to say another word between now and the second his new hire is introduced. I just hope that when the time comes, Michael Jordan signs off on it and says he did. What, is that unfair to the parents of Rompza, Keith Clanton, Isaac Sosa or any of the other Knights? I think they might understand.
Is it unfair to the coach that’s hand-picked? The pressure to win comes with the job as it is. That all eyes are on you as you build isn’t the worst thing in the world for an attention-starved program.
Is it slimy? C’mon. In NCAA basketball, you’re worried about this? Where’s the violation? Why shouldn’t the university take advantage of a recruiting tool as shiny as the new facilities and sun-kissed coeds. Jordan’s kid is on the team. He’s got three more years. Break out the buffet and try not to break any texting rules or visit someone’s Facebook page during non-approved recruiting periods.
Being brutally honest, Tribble’s objective of raising UCF’s profile to where its perenially competing for championships goes hand-in-hand with Speraw’s final ace in the hole, the signing of a player who got his program more attention and prestige because of his name in a few months than it achieved in the 16 years prior.
If you’re not going to give the man a chance to coach him and fulfill his pledge to help Marcus Jordan develop his game, you may as well capitalize on his dismissal by replacing him with the hand-picked choice of the legend currently associated with your program.
Seems like that might be the right way to go given this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to forever alter your reputation.
Source: Pro Basketball News, by Tony Mejia, senior writer; He can be reached at [email protected] Photo credit, Pro Basketball News.