As coach Jaida Williams recalls, there were four times during this Coastal Carolina women’s basketball season that she had to pull senior guard AJ Jordan out of practice and relegate her to the sideline.
Not out of discipline – but because she was simply too good and too reliable that her teammates were routinely deferring to the veteran leader rather than trying to make plays of their own.
“Our team would just default to watching ‘The AJ Show,’ so I had to take her out so that we learned how to play,” Williams said. “And instead of being upset I took her out, she just started to watch the game from a different [perspective] and I’ve kind of watched her take off as a coach from there. And now I can’t stop her.”
That last part could be taken figuratively or literally because despite Williams’ hope she would continue her playing career after college, Jordan says she is intent on turning her full focus to pursuing a coaching career in basketball.
She’s not done as a scorer just yet, though.
The Coastal Carolina women open the Big South tournament Tuesday at home inside The HTC Center as the No. 9 seed playing No. 8 UNC Asheville in an elimination game. The winner will move on to play top-seeded Liberty in the quarterfinals Thursday.
And Jordan says she’s not ready to think about the end yet.
“I don’t think you can let that affect you because if that’s all you’re thinking about, you can’t play on that kind of emotion,” she said before practice Monday. “I think that’s kind of a negative way to look at it.”
These last four years have surely been trying at times as the Chanticleers have had their collective struggles, including a 12-17 overall record this season and a 6-14 mark in the conference. But negativity isn’t Jordan’s game.
As the Chants were stumbling to an 87-53 loss to UNC Asheville in their regular-season finale Saturday, Jordan stayed aggressive to the end while accounting for more than half of her team’s offensive output with 28 points.
She is the leading scorer in the Big South at 17.0 points per game and on Monday was named a first-team all-conference selection for the second straight season – the first Coastal Carolina women’s basketball player to accomplish that feat since Nikki Reddick from 2001-04.
When Jordan steps on the court Tuesday night, she’ll set a program record for career games played with 118 and she also ranks sixth in team history with 1,427 career points and third with 585 field goals made.
Not that she likes talking about any of that.
“I can’t really take credit for anything because it wouldn’t have been possible if I wouldn’t have had my teammates and my coaching staff’s support,” she said.
Sitting with Williams up in the Chants’ basketball offices Monday to reflect on her collegiate career, Jordan mostly kept her answers brief despite her coach’s prodding.
But Williams, Coastal Carolina’s second-year head coach, was more than happy fill in the gaps.
“I think what AJ’s left behind is bigger than what anybody’s going to be able to see on the court,” Williams said. “The individual things, I know those things don’t matter to her and as a head coach you’re lucky to coach a kid like that once, twice, a couple times if you’re Coach K. But I think what she’s leaving here is bigger than points or anything else. …
“I think when Coastal is built into one of those powers that we all believe it will be, I think I can always say that it started with AJ.”
Jordan started playing basketball at 5 years old when her brother would ask her to grab rebounds as he shot on the goal post the family had installed in some dirt.
She would go on to play at Coalfield High School in Coalfield, Tenn., and start to get noticed by colleges on the AAU circuit as a junior.
“I didn’t grow up in a way that was financially great or anything so playing basketball gave me an avenue to be able to get my college education paid for, which was always really the ultimate goal,” she said.
When it came time to pick a college, Jordan said she wanted to see a new area and get away from home. She chose Coastal Carolina only to see the coaching staff that recruited her leave after her sophomore season.
That was tough, she said, but she’s thrived just fine under Williams and her staff.
It was last season as a junior that she really found her confidence. And when Jordan doesn’t tell the story, Williams takes control of the conversation.
“We just talked about this. I think it was the Campbell game last season,” Williams said.
Campbell’s Kiera Gaines, regarded as one of the top defenders in the Big South, focused all her attention on trying to shut down Jordan. She was held to 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting with no free throw attempts and was none too pleased about it.
“She said she had never experienced that before [being the primary focus of defensive attention], and I’ve got to give her props,” Williams said. “We come back from Buies Creek, [N.C.], everybody else leaves and AJ gets in the gym and starts working on her game.”
Asked how long she stayed there that night, Jordan said: “Until [assistant coach William] Clay kicked me out. It was an hour or two and he made me leave.”
In the rematch against Campbell and Gaines a month later, Jordan went for 26 points and even hit 4-of-5 3-pointers.
Normally doing her best work in the mid-range game, she’s had 21 career games of 20 or more points – with nine this season, including a career-high 36 points against Presbyterian – and will try to add to that total this week.
But when it is over, Jordan already has her next challenge in mind.
She got interested in coaching while working with her high school team when it visited for a camp here and in helping at basketball clinics back home. She doesn’t just want to pursue a coaching career, though; she wants to do it with a men’s team and would prefer to get started on that path here while spending time working under Chanticleer men’s basketball coach Cliff Ellis as a graduate assistant.
“I plan on asking Coach Ellis if I could GA for him and if not I’ll apply other places, but that’s my first look right now,” she said.
While Williams would love to see Jordan keep playing beyond this year, she’s also supportive of her desire to begin the next phase of her basketball career.
And while Jordan has set an aggressive goal for herself – to one day work up to the ranks of the NBA – Williams, for one, is a believer.
“I absolutely think she can do it,” Williams said. “Brilliant. Very high GPA, very little effort [needed], but super smart, loves the game, makes reads incredibly. We were just watching the Asheville game and some of the reads she makes just instinctually – and that comes from her studying the game, being a true student of the game. So I think she’s going to be an incredible head coach one day. But she really wants to get in on the men’s side and I’m in full support.
“I told her if there’s anyone that can break through the barriers and be tough enough to make it, it’s her. She hasn’t met a challenge she hasn’t overcome with flying colors.”