NEW YORK -- A year and a half after getting traded to the Knicks, Jerome Jordan finally got to walk out on to the Garden floor for the first time Sunday afternoon during the team's annual open practice for fans.
For Jordan, it was a very special moment to know that he was officially a member of an NBA team going into the 2011-12 season, especially the Knicks. That opportunity wasn't in front of him before. Back on June 24, 2010, Milwaukee drafted him with the 44th pick, but two weeks later sent him to New York for cash considerations. Soon after, Jordan played in Serbia for the KK Hemofarm basketball club, which he did through last spring, and then this past offseason he suited up in Slovenia for KK Krka.
Jordan said his most recent overseas experience in Novo mesto was "really good." While the team played in a small arena (Leon Stukelj Hall has a capacity of 2,500), Jordan got used to raucous environments, like he'll see at MSG, when top opponents packed house. During his time there, he enjoyed running with his teammates and learned a lot from his head coach, Aleksander Sekulic, about making quick reads on offense and defense.
"I just tried to play the whole game and do pick-and-roll stuff," Jordan said. "[The NBA] is pretty much similar, so I'm trying to learn how to get in and get out, and roll fast, and know what your point guard does. On the defensive end, just be alert. Over there, obviously you can clog up the middle; over here, you've got to watch for three seconds. It was similar and different."
Jordan's first practice was only on Thursday, and he missed Saturday's preseason game with a slight groin injury, so Mike D'Antoni hasn't really seen what Jordan can do. D'Antoni expects him back to full health by the Christmas Day season opener against the Celtics, but don't expect him to play early on in the season. After Sunday's scrimmage, the head coach said Jordan's still a project.
"We'll have to wait on him, and I'm not going to just throw him out there," D'Antoni said. "But before he went to Europe, we liked that he knows how to play. He's a skilled big man at 7-0. There's a lot of good things. Whether his body right now can prevent the pounding, whether he's quick enough with his instincts right now, is questionable. But it's something that we'll continue to work through the year and hopefully he'll show improvement. Maybe he'll get in a game and we'll see."
Even though he's the third-string center, after Tyson Chandler and Jared Jeffries, Jordan could benefit from the shortened season ahead. With 21 back-to-backs upcoming for the Knicks -- some weeks with four games in five nights -- and Amare Stoudemire saying that more rest will be critical, Jordan could be asked to play around 15 minutes occasionally down the road. It also doesn't hurt that Jordan will be able to develop under an NBA champion center in Chandler, who Jordan considers to be a more refined version of himself.
"I just want to keep developing as a player, and kind of mirror Tyson with what he's coming in to do defensively," Jordan said. "We're kind of pretty much similar, so I want to just come in and learn from him, learn from Amare and those guys."
Quoting a line from Jordan's current favorite pre-game pump-up song, "The Motto," rapper Drake spits, "I'm in the building and I'm feeling myself." That message, right now, sums it up for Jordan. While he made a quick NBA exit last July, and then played foreign ball for more than a year, he said enrolling in study abroad, rather than the D-League, gave him the skills necessary to solidify a permanent roster spot.
After enduring an extended offseason and free-agency uncertainty, Jordan felt relieved knowing that he was standing right where he wanted to be on Saturday afternoon.
"It was kind of a long process for me because it was like a two-step process," he said. "The lockout had to end first and then I had to wait and see who they were going to get -- if they were going to pick me. So it was a waiting game for me, but I'm just happy to be here in the end."
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