Behind Enemy Lines with Illinois guard Aaron Jordan
On Thursday, the Michigan men’s basketball team (15-0 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) will hit the road for the first time in over a month when it travels to Champaign to play Illinois (4-11 overall, 0-4 Big Ten).
The Illini are one of two teams winless in Big Ten play, but their strength of schedule ranks fifth in the country, according to KenPom. They have already faced non-conference powers Gonzaga and Iowa State, as well as Nebraska, Ohio State and Indiana in the conference. Things don’t project to be any easier for Illinois against the second-ranked team in the country. But the Illini under coach Brad Underwood are best known for their unique defense that is designed to put pressure on teams by forcing turnovers. That, combined with the fact that the Illini are playing in their home arena, ensures the Wolverines will have to work for a win.
Illinois senior guard Aaron Jordan isn’t the most heralded player on the team, but he is the most veteran of a starting lineup composed of two four-star freshmen and a sophomore. The Daily sat down with Jordan at Big Ten Media Day in October.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
TMD: How did you pick your number?
AJ: That's actually funny but 23 is actually my second-favorite number. My favorite number is eight but you can't wear eight in college (college players can only use numbers 0-5 on their jerseys) and I kind of just picked it in high school and then actually when I first got to college I told one of my best friends, my old teammate, that I was going to change it. He threatened me and said, “If you change your number we’ll have problems, I won’t be your friend anymore.” So I stayed with it. Not really much of a story behind it, I don't know, it's just something I sort of gravitated towards.
TMD: Why is 23 your second-favorite number?
AJ: Because I used to play soccer and then my soccer number was eight and my dad used to always scream “Go number eight!” and so that kind of, early on I played soccer more, so then I really embraced that number.
TMD: Why did you switch from soccer to basketball?
AJ: Basketball became, I started basketball around, I started travel basketball — so we actually go to a lot of places — in seventh grade, so it was just a really, it was a group of guys that were very close that loved basketball and so when I was able to be around that, something just clicked, and I said, “Hey, this is something I want to do for the long run.” So I stayed with it.
TMD: What's your favorite place you've ever traveled to?
AJ: It would have to be California. Anaheim. During AAU we went on a trip. We went to Philly for about a week and did a camp and then the team flew in and we had a basketball tournament. And then we came back to Illinois for a few days and then we flew out to California, played out there, then we drove to Vegas. So that was very much a road trip. In California, we were able to go on the boardwalk, go on the beach, it was very chill out there, good weather, sunny, good food, In-N-Out. I love that. If I go out west, I'll probably eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
TMD: What's your favorite weather?
AJ: Fall. Definitely fall. You can put on a hoodie, put on sweatpants. I mean, that's the go-to outfit right there.
TMD: What's your favorite restaurant near the University of Illinois?
AJ: Oishi. It's a hibachi steakhouse. I love hibachi. Early on when our scholarship checks used to drop we always used to go, “Okay, hibachi, let’s go.”
TMD: What's your favorite order there?
AJ: Last time I had steak and shrimp, but that was the first time I got steak in a while. Usually, I get chicken and shrimp. But overall, truthfully, I like going there, I load up on the sushi. I’m a big sushi guy.
TMD: What's been your favorite off-the-court moment in college?
AJ: Probably the trip overseas my freshman year. That was amazing. That was the first time going out of the country. Maybe second. But just being over there and experiencing it with those guys, that's something you remember forever.
TMD: Where did you go?
AJ: I believe we went to Germany and then we went to Paris, saw the Eiffel Tower, I think that was it. There were a lot of other places but you go to so many cities and just enjoy the moment for so much that you kind of forget it.
TMD: Do you play Fortnite as a team?
AJ: A lot of the guys on the team play Fortnite. I am not one of them, actually. I just sit and watch and I just try to hype everybody up. Yeah, I’m usually the one — they say I’m the worst player. I’m not the worst Fortnite player. I can get a kill or two.