- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

Long before Eddie Jordan led Rutgers to the Final Four and long before he led the NBA in steals, he knew he wanted to coach. After being introduced as the coach of the Washington Wizards yesterday at MCI Center, Jordan’s voice broke and his eyes welled when he talked about the influence of the late John Paul Davis, his mentor at Douglass Junior High School in a working-class Southeast Washington neighborhood.

“Before I thought I could be a good player, I wanted to coach,” Jordan said. “Coach John Paul Davis showed me structure and discipline and showed me that if you give that to young men who are almost hopeless, you can create something. He was a very special man in my life. That’s why I wanted to coach.”

Overcoming that sense of hopelessness was good preparation for Jordan’s new assignment as the Wizards’ seventh coach since 1999. Washington hasn’t made the playoffs in six years, hasn’t won a postseason game since 1988 and hasn’t won a series since 1982, when Jordan was a backup point guard for the champion Los Angeles Lakers.

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” said Jordan, whose previous top job in Sacramento was at least as challenging. “I know what lies ahead. I’ve been in the NBA for close to 12 years, and I know a good situation. This is a good situation … with a very good upside. We’re oozing in talent. We have the building blocks.”

Jordan, who attracted more scholarship offers for football than basketball coming out of the District’s Carroll High School, was Tom Young’s first recruit when the coach left American for Rutgers in 1973. Three years later, Jordan was the East regional Most Valuable Player as the surprising Scarlet Knights ran their record to 26-0 and headed to the Final Four.

“Eddie ran the show for us for four years,” Young said. “He was really a coach on the floor. Defensively, Eddie gave you more than you could ask for. He had excellent quickness. That’s why he led the NBA in steals [for the 1978-1979 New Jersey Nets]. Offensively, there weren’t many guys who would rather pass than shoot, but Eddie was one.

“Eddie really understood the game, but more important was how he conveyed that understanding to his teammates without them getting upset. He was very capable of getting his point across. He still is. Eddie is always upbeat. The Wizards have some good, young players, and he’ll be able to teach them. He’ll get the most out of his players.”

Wizards owner Abe Pollin said Jordan received sterling recommendations from his most recent boss, Nets general manager Rod Thorn, as well as Miami Heat coach Pat Riley and Memphis Grizzlies general manager Jerry West, the Lakers’ coach and GM during Jordan’s Los Angeles tenure.

“He was [only] an assistant coach, but a lot of the credit for the success of the Nets belongs to Eddie,” Pollin said. “I learned from talking to many, many people in the NBA that Eddie is great with young players. He’s a teacher. They all respect him and work very hard for him. He’s the right guy at the right time.”

Jordan, who began his coaching career in 1984 as a volunteer assistant to Young at Rutgers, broke into the pro ranks as an assistant with the Kings in 1992. After going 33-64 as the coach in Sacramento from March 1997 to April 1998, Jordan resurfaced as an assistant with equally lowly New Jersey in March 1999. The Nets now have won consecutive Eastern Conference titles with Jordan credited for running their unselfish, fundamental offense that he said can be traced to the champion Boston Celtics of the 1960s.

“I think the guys will like the way we teach and practice,” Jordan said. “Work ethic is a habit. It’s very important to love to come to work. We’ll care about each other. I think they’ll like the way we play at both ends of the floor. If they’re having fun, then the confidence is there and the growth will be very obvious. There’s a direction that’s going to be fun and competitive. There’s some patience involved, but the excitement is immediate. The future for the Wizards will be very positive.”

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