PHILADELPHIA — Rysheed Jordan
hangs in the air, like that "other guy" with the famous same last name used to — and for a brief moment, all eyes are on the Vaux (Philadelphia)
6-foot-4 senior guard amid outstretched hands.
It seems every eye has been on Jordan the last four years. Defenses are geared to stop him, and they don't. Double teams try to stop him, and they can't. Gadget defenses are designed to shut him down, and they fail.
Jordan is finishing an amazing high school career at the Philadelphia Public League power that's scheduled to close after this school year. Still hovering over him is a big decision — where he's going to go to college.
Jordan has the list down to three: Temple, St. John's and UCLA. There are some in local Philadelphia basketball circles who think Jordan could be a one-and-done.
Jordan's primary concern is leading the Cougars to a PIAA Class A state championship before he graduates. That would be a nice first step in following the lengthy, distinguished path of that "other guy" named Jordan. Aside from his ability to hang in the air and score at will through a maze of defenders, this Jordan has even stepped further to "be like Mike," with a Nike swoosh tattoo emblazed on his chest, with the words "Just Do It" above.
He almost did it Sunday, scoring a game-high 45 points on 10-for-21 shooting and making 21 of 23 free throws. But a last-second shot fell inches short and Imhotep Charter (Philadelphia)
won the Philadelphia Public League title for the fourth time in five years, 67-66.
Despite the marvelous Jordan.
With his team trailing 54-43 entering the fourth quarter, Jordan did what stars are expected to do. He heaved Vaux up on his shoulders and lugged them forward, sometimes getting triple teamed. It didn't matter. Jordan still scored. He had 16 points in the fourth quarter and brought his team back from the brink.
"Rysheed played a great game, that's what we expect out of him and that's the way he's played all year," Vaux coach Jamie Ross said. "His ability to get to the basket, his ability to get fouled and make foul shots, he's just a complete guard."
But what stood out, what makes this Jordan Jordan-esque, is when his team was struggling, he didn't shrink. He expanded and took the game over.
"Rysheed has done that in the four years that he's been here," Ross said. "It was a team effort, but we rely heavily on Rysheed. We got some key stops to put us back in the game, but we had some mental lapses that allowed them to win the game."
Since there is no Philadelphia Catholic League Class A champion, Vaux is the automatic District 12 Class A champion. The Cougars should have no problem going deep in the PIAA Class A state playoffs with a player like Jordan. Standing in the way of the Cougars will most probably be Philadelphia Public League rival Math, Civics & Sciences.
The unstoppable factor is Jordan.
"This is the one we really wanted, we beat Imhotep 73-51 in the beginning of the year and we wanted to prove that that was no fluke," Ross said. "But this one hurts. It's something we all wanted, I know it hurts Rysheed personally, because it's something he wanted before he graduated. We do still have a lot of basketball ahead of us. But right now, they're kids and it will hurt them for a couple of days."
Afterward, Imhotep coach Andre Noble let out a huge sigh of relief. He won't have to see Jordan anymore, though his star, 6-foot-7 senior Providence-bound guard
, selected the game's MVP with 21 points, dueled Jordan to the very end before fouling out.
"What an incredibly talented, gifted player, he's such a big concern," Noble said about Jordan. "With a player like him, you have to try to deny him and make him work. We ran a lot of run and jump stuff at him."
Jordan, afterward, was obviously despondent. He's looking to make a decision after the season, and those Philadelphia hoops fans would love to see him stay local and wind up at Temple.
Jordan, however, is working on making himself better for the remainder of this season.
"I've committed a lot to my outside shot, and I think it's improved a lot," Jordan said. "I think I've learned to work harder on my game. I think that's the biggest difference. I used to put up maybe 200, 300 shots. Now I'll put up 500 jumpers. Where it all takes me, I don't know. It's down to three schools, but my biggest commitment is to my team. This is going to be the last year Vaux is open. We'd like to go out winners."
About the only thing Jordan hasn't done is win a state championship.
"It would be great to go out with a state title," Jordan said. "We'll go from there."
So for now, all eyes will continue to be on Jordan. Just like they used to be on that "other guy" with the same last name each time he played.