St. John’s guard Rysheed Jordan doesn’t speak with media often.
After arriving on campus last fall, the highly-pursued recruit has been kept at a safe distance from reporters, a policy coach Steve Lavin instituted because he wanted Jordan to focus on both his school and his basketball commitments. Other than a piece this past summer by Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer (which was more about Jordan’s mentoring of Archbishop Carroll’s David Beatty than Jordan’s Big East stint), Jordan has been silent.
Any thoughts of speaking to Jordan in year two were recently ruled out: the sophomore wasn’t made available during the team’s media day last Friday. Lavin again cited academic obligations, and further explained Jordan’s silence could continue until the second semester: “I would say in all probability, maybe early December if we’ve seen enough improvement.”
Frankly, Lavin’s strategy is brilliant. You can’t criticize a coach for insisting his player, who committed to his school ostensibly to get a college degree, not talk to the media in order to he can keep a firm grasp on his educational commitments.
Still, it makes getting a read on this team even more difficult. Despite all the seniors the Red Storm return for their final campaign, Jordan is the team’s offensive fulcrum. While he only scored 0.78 points per play last season, which was the squad’s lowest rate, his explosive offensive ability, combined with his sui generis half court arsenal, means Jordan is the Red Storm’s most exciting player when he steps on to the court.
Jordan’s dexterous handle and shifty speed changes helped him score 0.83 points per isolation play in 2014, a mark which led St. John’s. No other guard finished more of their field goal attempts at the rim (or posted as high a percentage) than Jordan — per Hoop-Math.com, 42% of his shots were at the rim and he made nearly 60% of those attempts.
However, the rest of Jordan’s offense is very much a work in progress. Since Jordan never struggled getting past defenders during high school and on the AAU circuit, his jump shot was the worst part of his game last year — he didn’t shoot much from beyond the arc, but he rarely connected when he did — so while he has always had the speed and strength to bully past opposing players, teams managed to find predictabilities amidst his talents.
To fix those holes in his game and fine-tune the other elements, Jordan returned to his hometown of Philadelphia this summer. There Jordan worked out with Ellis Gindraw, an assistant coach at Division III’s Immaculata University, who each offseason works with both NBA and college players. Gindraw first began training ex-Temple star Dionte Christmas four years ago, and has added Marcus and Markieff Morris, Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Khalif Wyatt (among others) to his roster of clients. I spoke with Gindraw to gain some insight into the evolution of Jordan’s game.
Being a North Philadelphia native himself, Gindraw was well familiar with Jordan’s game. “I watched all of his high school games [at Roberts Vaux High School] and a lot of his college games,” said Gindraw, “and because of his talent — he can get to the hole at will — he was too comfortable in high school.” Jordan traveled home and worked out with Gindraw about seven times this summer, and each time Gindraw focused on expanding Jordan’s comfort level with his jump shot. “We worked a lot on his jump shot, and trying to make it more consistent,” Gindraw explained. “We talked a lot about slowing his shot down, and then just getting up a lot of reps.”
Gindraw also stressed conditioning was another essential element of their sessions, which typically were one-on-one affairs but were sometimes joined by Ellington or Waiters. “Even though he played a lot his freshman year, he still could play more minutes, so we worked on getting him in the best shape of his life,” said Gindraw. Jordan’s teammates should benefit from the training. While his assist rate led the team, Jordan only used about half of the team’s minutes (he did miss four games), so additional playing time should translate into easy conversions.
According to Gindraw, the biggest teaching point was a drill he uses called “Two Minutes Left,” where a player has to make an end game decision. These drills were done at the end of their workouts — “after 20 minutes of warm-ups and then the game, no one is ever fresh with two minutes left” — and Jordan worked on either hitting a jump shot or getting into the lane in the “waning” seconds.
One player, in particular, mentored Jordan this summer (along with Gindraw). “Dion has taken Rysheed under his wing,” said Gindraw, “and he would point out similarities to their games, and how Rysheed can attack the defense. Rysheed saw how much better Dion has gotten, and is trying to follow him.”
Of course, until the season begins and Jordan suits up against NJIT on November 14, it’s impossible to know how these sessions have impacted Jordan’s game, but based on media day comments from his teammates, this could very well be Jordan’s final year in Queens. Senior guard D’Angelo Harrison said Jordan might be a “$10 million player” and commented, “It’s kind of scary … [he’s] that good right now.”
Gindraw won’t be surprised: “His work ethic was second to none this summer.”