When the NBL’s Preseason Blitz tipped off in Townsville in late September, all eyes were on the new imports in the league, as they typically are. The local Crocs fans were especially interested in their new shooting guard who was brought in to complement reigning MVP Brian Conklin.
It didn’t take them long to pick him out of the lay-up line.
Jordair Jett looks more like someone you’d expect to find at a reggae festival than as your team’s new import. There are the trademark long dreadlocks and there’s the fact that his body shape is atypical for a shooting guard.
“He’s built like a running back,” Crocodiles Head Coach Shawn Dennis told Downtown.
Still, he came in with glowing endorsements from those that mattered.
“When SD [Shawn Dennis] and I sat down after the season and talked about what needed to be addressed for the future of the club assuming I were to come back, was that we needed a guard at the import spot that could really create, was an athlete and could play defence and run,” Conklin told Downtown in August.
“Jordair fit the criteria to a T.”
Coach Dennis wanted a true two-way guard.
“We need someone who can score off the dribble, be a terrific defender at the other end and defend the very good guards that are coming into the league,” Dennis said preseason.
“Jordair is amazing at getting to the basket, he can really create his own shot and create shots for others.”
Were they talking about the same guy we were seeing? The 226lbs bulldog who looked like he belonged on an NFL team?
“Obviously we would have liked him to be in better shape when he arrived,” Dennis admitted.
“In college they literally hold them by the hand and lead them along the path on where they need to be, what they need to do, but one of the things he’s learned is that in the pro game it doesn’t necessarily work that way. You’re given the resources and you’re expected to perform.”
As a result of being out of shape and a preseason hamstring strain, Jett started the season very inconsistently. After a 22-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist effort in the Crocs’ first win of the season versus Sydney, he then struggled through the next 4 games, averaging just 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists while hitting barely over 40% from the field.
“Coming here I was kind of questioning myself because being out of shape is one of the worst things,” Jett told Downtown yesterday.
“You know it’s always tough getting back into shape.”
Dennis benched Jett for a large portion of the second half in one of those games against Melbourne, adding this in the postgame press conference…
"He was playing like crap. Why would you keep playing somebody who is playing like crap?" TSV coach Shawn Dennis on import Jordair Jett.
— Liam Santamaria (@liam_santa) October 21, 2015
“We had conversations about being a professional, particularly the role of an import; it can be quite a fickle world and you can lose your job quite easily,” Dennis recalled.
Jett continued to get into shape and also continued to learn how to be a pro with the aid of some of his veteran teammates.
“I’ve learned a lot,” admitted Jett.
“I think one of the big things for me is preparation and recovery. I never really took it that seriously in college. I never really knew how serious it was until you actually get here, you have to do things on your own.”
He talks regularly with Mitch Norton, Luke Schenscher and Leon Henry.
“I live with Leon, so we’re always talking. He’s kind of my mentor on the team.”
The one thing Jett did well during that rough stretch though, was defend. He swiped 1.5 steals per game as well as slowing down some of the better shooting guards in the league in Cam Gliddon (5 of 11), Chris Goulding (5 of 12) and Jermaine Beal (2 of 9) as Townsville got their second win of the season in surprise fashion in Perth.
If Jett was struggling offensively, at least he was finding another way to impact the game. Yet, there were still rumblings that he wasn’t up to the task of being an import in this league. With Brian Conklin also struggling, the Crocs needed their second import to consistently produce and Jett was under pressure to perform.
He started to improve amidst the pressure. He scored 22 points in a tough loss to Sydney in Round 4 and then, led Townsville to their second upset win over Perth with 24 points, (8-10 FGs), 5 assists, 3 rebounds, a steal and a block, while troubling Jermaine Beal who again shot just 2-9 that night.
However, Jett struggled with consistency through the rest of November despite scoring in double-digits every game. Townsville’s imports were not performing and something needed to change.
Ultimately, it was Brian Conklin who was let go.
“It was almost a reinforcement to him [Jett] about what it takes to be a pro and I think he’s really turned the corner since then,” Dennis told Downtown.
“I think that’s really kick-started him into being the player he’s been over the last month.”
In addition, Dennis and Jett spoke about what drives him to get out of bed everyday and work to improve.
“My family,” Jett said humbly.
“Specifically my mum. And my sisters and my brothers. I mean, we’re not living in the greatest area where I’m from, so I’d like to – not only for them but for myself – get them out of that area and see them smile.”
With a newfound mental attitude as well as continuing improvement in his conditioning, Jett was feeling fresh; like a new man. It was time for The Fresh Prince of Jordair to take on the NBL.
He responded with 26 points on 12-22 FGs, along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals in a big round 9 win over Cairns.
“I feel real good out there right now,” Jett said.
“I think I could be in a little better shape but I’m in good game shape right now, and I’m going to continue to keep on getting extra conditioning here and there. So obviously I feel a lot more confident. The better shape I’m in, the more confident I feel.”
That confidence is evident to his teammates who are enjoying this newfound productivity from Jett.
“He’s put in a lot of extra work to lose a few kilos and get down to a pretty good playing weight for him, so he’s put in the hard work and we’re definitely seeing rewards from that the last few weeks,” team captain Mitch Norton told Downtown yesterday.
After that win over Cairns, Cam Gliddon was quoted as saying: “Jett is crazy. Jett is one of the strongest guys who I’ve ever tried to guard. And he can elevate. He’s not going to probably dunk on you … but he’s got some hang time in the key way as well. So he uses that body and shakes you off then then just elevates.”
Norton believes Jett’s ups may take somebody by surprise.
“He can jump out of the gym,” the captain said.
“So I’m just waiting for the day when he comes down the lane and tries to punch it on someone, because it could be very, very exciting.”
Meanwhile, Jett has made his mark on the defensive end of the court. Coach Dennis has made no apologies for putting his name squarely in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year.
“Number one, we’ve played Perth four times and won three of those games and a lot of that has had to do with his defence on Jermaine Beal. In Adelaide, we got the scoreline back to four and a lot of that was due to Jordair’s ability to stay in front of Randle and no-one’s been able to do that,” said Dennis.
“When we beat Sydney earlier in the year, Jason Cadee started well and he came up to me at half time and said ‘Coach, let me take Cadee.’ He then took Cadee out of the game and that was before he was in shape.
“So, he keeps wanting that challenge and then stepping up to it and I just think people need to be aware of what this kid’s actually doing. I think he’s very much an unsung hero amongst the imports.”
Norton pinpointed what he’s noticed most from Jett defensively.
“You know for a guy his size, he never runs into a screen,” Norton said.
“He’s got really good footwork, so he’s able to move around the screens and it’s a bit of a nightmare for the screener to go and headhunt him, cos they don’t get him many times.”
Playing at Saint Louis under legendary Coach Rick Majerus, Jett was given a rude awakening about his agility on the defensive end of the floor.
“In college, Coach Majerus, he basically told me if I can’t get over a ball screen, I won’t play. So that’s something I had to know how to do and be good at. I had to specialise in that.”
That was the start of his focus on defence.
“All throughout college, we preached defence,” Jett said.
“I approach every game defensively, my matchup, I’m locked in – I’m always locked in. I take defence very personal. I always have. It’s like something my brother always told me ‘It’s embarrassing to be scored on.’”
Words to live by and definitely a part of that bulldog mentality that bothers his opponents. His combination of lateral movement and strength present a nightmare for those he’s guarding.
“We saw that strength from him when we beat Perth over here in the first game,” Dennis explained.
“Beal uses his strength to create separation and he tried to get rid of Jordair and couldn’t and I think Randle saw that as well.”
Does the hair have anything to do with it?
Does it give him Samson like strength? No one around Jett is sure, but they do know how special it is to him and have never dared ask him to cut it. Right, Coach?
“No I haven’t,” chuckled Dennis.
“Apparently he’s had it since he was about 14 or something.”
Not quite 14, but it has been with him for some time.
“I’ve kind of always wanted it [dreadlocks],” said Jett.
“And then this one time before I went to College I just told my Mum ‘Mum, I think it’s time I get dreads’, and ever since that day, I’ve had the dreads. It was right after High School actually, she put it in my hair and they’ve grown about 8 or 9 inches since. And I’ll have it for a while. It ain’t going anywhere.”
What about his teammates getting to him?
“He’s pretty protective when it comes to that,” Norton laughed.
“Whenever we have pool recovery sessions he makes sure he ties it up. He can’t get it wet. We might have to keep that prank up the sleeve.”
Over the past month, the Crocs have gone 3-2 and still have a faint sniff of playoff hopes. Whether the hair is his secret or it’s his newfound professionalism, Jett’s play has been a huge reason why this team is now a respected opponent across the league.
“I think he has been a really good import for us. He did cop a bit of flack early on, but now he’s playing with all the freedom and confidence in the world, so that’s really nice,” Norton told Downtown.
Dennis too, acknowledged the importance of Jett to their team’s success.
“There’s no doubt that as a team, we’ve performed a lot better as he’s gotten better. Him in shape, he’s a great player and one of the upper echelon players in the league, so I’m very pleased with him of late,” Dennis said proudly.
“For the last month he’s everything I expected and it’s just been terrific to coach him.”
As for Jett, he’s keeping his rest-of-season goals as straightforward as possible?
“Keep working on my fitness and just keep grinding at it and hopefully make this playoff run,” Jett told Downtown.
From a personal standpoint?
“Hopefully get that Defensive Player of the Year. My name’s out there a little bit in the defensive conversation, so now I’m going to give them a reason to give me the Defensive Player of the Year award.”