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Southern U Illinois Basketball

Illinois guard Aaron Jordan celebrates after a win against Southern to start the season last year. 

ROSEMONT — Tons of thoughts raced through Aaron Jordan's head during his first two seasons on the University of Illinois basketball team.

If the 2018 version of Jordan had to go back and revisit them, he might unearth a past desire to find a new home with more playing time.

But he couldn't quite pull the trigger. The 3.3 points he averaged as a freshman followed by averaging one point as a sophomore weren't enough to drag him out away from his home state.

"If we went back and analyzed all of them, at some point I probably wanted to jump ship," Jordan said Thursday at Big Ten Media Day. "I knew at the end of the day where home was, how much it meant to me and why I wanted to stay."

What Jordan found last season was a new coach in Brad Underwood who encouraged him to forget about his first two years.

Underwood asked Jordan, a Plainfield native, to buy into the system. If he did that, those numbers would skyrocket.

Jordan averaged 7.9 points last season while burying 44 3-pointers at a 46.3 percent clip, which landed him third overall in the Big Ten.

All he needed to hear was Underwood's message.

"I trusted him the moment he said that, and I got into the gym and worked hard," Jordan said.

Now Jordan is an unquestioned leader of a team with six freshmen and nine new faces on the roster.

The coaching staff has asked as much of Jordan, and he's delivered. He offers advice to the freshman — things such as how long the season can be and how to dispel some myths about the college game.

Jordan told the young guys that adversity is going to strike in some way; it always does on a college basketball team.

After all, Jordan had his fair share during a tough first two seasons.

“I’d say, yes, it was difficult," Jordan said. "That’s life. That’s life in general. There are going to be ups and downs, but it’s all about how you respond to it.

"That third year was really focusing on: How am I going to respond? How am I going to help this team win? How am I going to be able to stay positive throughout the whole process."

On the first day of practice this year, Jordan stepped into a free throw drill to knock down back-to-back free throws — after a slew of teammates made one of two — to end practice.

It was something Jordan knew he needed to do.

“I said. ‘No I’m tired of that.’ It was that ongoing thing," Jordan said. "Something in me told me, ‘You know what, get up there, knock down these free throws and let's go home.’"

Underwood has repeatedly said how much he values Jordan's leadership and the pride he brings to the team.

Jordan grew up watching the Illini on TV. He remembers a face-to-face encounter with Dee Brown. He knows how much the state can rally around a strong Illini team because he's lived it.

“I can never say enough about Aaron Jordan other than someday somebody needs to hire him because he’s going to be that guy," Underwood said. "He may be the CEO. He’s got a great way with people. He’s got a pat on the rear end or a hug or a positive thing to say when a guy needs it. He’s not afraid to be confrontational with a teammate.

“His perseverance. He didn’t play for two years, really. Now he’s become a focal point of our team last year. He’s going to be a big part of it this year. That young man does nothing but does his job every day."

When Trent Frazier got to town as a freshman last season, he met a version of Jordan that was coming off of a season where he had only shot the ball 28 times. But he found more than that.

He found a shooter who launched an assault on defenses from 3-point land during last year's nonconference portion of the schedule before defenses adjusted in Big Ten play.

Frazier found someone who is dedicated to winning.

“He’s one of our key players," Frazier said. "He knows his role and he plays his role to a T. It’s incredible. He never gets mad or frustrated when he doesn’t get the ball.

"He’s one of the best shooters in the country and he’s going to be this year. That’s why I love playing with him. He doesn’t complain about the ball. He does what he needs to do to help this team."

If Jordan has his way, his senior season is going to have the Illini back where they're used to being — at the top.

“That’s what everybody talks about is where we used to be," Jordan said. "I want to get back there so bad. I know the guys who are coming here who want to be here and want to play for Illinois. That’s what they want to get back to."

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Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25

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Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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