- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 28, 2004

PHILADELPHIA — When Washington Wizards assistant Mike O’Koren called coach Eddie Jordan early yesterday morning, he expected to have a conversation mostly centered on the blood clot discovered in Jordan’s left leg Thursday morning.


Yes, pleasantries were exchanged, but the subject Jordan wanted to talk about most from his hospital bed was the team’s game today in Toronto.

“He’s nuts,” O’Koren joked following the team’s practice at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I’m asking him about how he’s doing and he’s telling me to run certain sets. It’s funny. He knows he’s all right now, I guess, so he wants to talk basketball. I told him to get better, and then we can talk basketball.”

Jordan, who is expected to leave a Washington hospital this week and return to the bench for Wednesday’s home game against New Jersey, listened to the Wizards’ 116-114 overtime loss to Philadelphia on the radio Friday. Yesterday, he was scheduled to receive the videotape of the game.

As much as Jordan would like to speed his return, he is out of commission until he receives medical clearance. Until then, O’Koren, Jordan’s longtime friend and one-time teammate with the Nets, is the guy the Wizards will look to for direction.

O’Koren played at North Carolina for Dean Smith, the winningest coach in major college basketball history. But O’Koren says it is what he learned with Jordan that will help him get through his stint as the Wizards’ temporary top man.

“I played for a tremendous coach in Dean Smith and I remember some of the things he taught,” O’Koren said. “But at this level I learned everything from Eddie. So I’m just trying to do what he would do. Honestly, I can’t wait for him to get back here. If I was coaching the team I think my mind would blow up. It really would. I’m just trying to help the team.”

Although O’Koren defers to Jordan at every turn, it is O’Koren who is known to the players as the most intense member of a staff that also includes Tom Young and Phil Hubbard.

O’Koren also is a stickler for detail, according to Wizards guard Larry Hughes.

Hughes said Jordan will tell the players what he wants and trusts the players can fill in the blanks without the aid of a sketchpad. However, Hughes said O’Koren diagrams a play — no matter how familiar the team is with it — from start to finish to make sure everyone understands.

“We just let him go,” Hughes said with a smile. “That’s what he does. We just make sure we pay attention.”

Both O’Koren and the players felt Jordan’s absence most after O’Koren blew his whistle at the start of Thursday’s practice. It was a different experience for both parties.

“Usually when that happens, we gather around Coach,” Hughes said. “It was strange because at the time we didn’t know what had happened.”

O’Koren also felt an awkwardness that he wasn’t familiar with.

“It’s different. The team looks at you and they want something and you have to be there to provide it,” O’Koren said. “You do that as an assistant but obviously not as much as a head coach. I don’t consider myself a head coach. I’m very comfortable being an assistant coach. This is my duty now because of what happened.”

Note — Reserve forward Michael Ruffin missed yesterday’s practice to be with his wife, who delivered the couple’s fourth child — a girl they named Mistye.

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