My first memory of basketball was probably from an elementary school league. I couldn’t dribble—I was terrible. But basketball must have been in my blood. My great uncle put up a goal on the side of our garage and took up the grass. Some of my fondest memories are of my neighborhood buddies and me playing basketball for hours on a dirt court in our backyard. I was filthy dirty at the end of every day. But, I loved every minute of it.
—Butler Men’s Basketball Head Coach LaVall Jordan ’01
College of Communication Sports Media Major Kelan Martin spends some one-on-one time with new Head Men’s Butler Basketball Coach LaVall Jordan.
KM: Talk about your younger playing career.
CJ: I wasn’t the best player on my high school team. I played basketball my freshman year, but I didn’t play varsity until my sophomore year. I didn’t start as a sophomore either, but I did play. I come from Albion, Michigan, which is a pretty small town. But, the whole community would come out to watch high school basketball for entertainment and they would really get behind their team. It was a great support system and atmosphere.
And, something about that community feeling that I grew up with was exactly what I felt when I came to visit Butler. Everyone was behind the basketball program at Butler and the program itself had a big vision to do something special. Personally, that was a big connection when I came as a recruit. I just knew I wanted to come and be a part of it as a player. Now, it truly is a dream come true to be back at my alma mater as a coach.
When I was in the 8th grade, our basketball team made a good state tournament run but we lost in the state championship title game to Detroit Country Day and a guy named Chris Webber.
Fast forward a few years to when I was a high school player and we were once again in the state championship game against Detroit Country Day, this time playing against another guy people might know, Shane Battier. And we lost again. But the whole community was behind us rooting for the team. That was a great moment.
KM: The Butler family, students, and the community are pretty loyal Butler fans. What do you think you can expect from them?
CJ: That is and was a big part of the attraction for me to come here even as a player. At that time Butler wasn’t as much of a national name as it is now. People would stop and ask us, “Where is Butler?” But, I had already had that experience playing for a small school that ended up competing with some pretty big name schools.
But something about that small Butler community attracted me to the campus and the program. It seemed like everyone was behind the basketball program and the program had a big vision to do something special. Listening to Coach [Barry] Collier and hearing what his vision was and what he saw Butler Basketball becoming was where I wanted to play.
KM: By the way, how was the coach you played for at Butler?
CJ: Well, he was just great. You know what, one of the things that my father appreciated about Coach Collier was that he was fair. You knew where you stood and you either got it done or you didn’t and there was heavy accountability. I responded to that. If you were getting the job done at practice—you earned playing time.
And, so that allowed the team and everyone in the program to know what was expected and have guys step up and do the job that needed to be done for the team to be successful. There were never any excuses on what year you were or how big you were…it was just the job description and “do it” for the good of the team. If you worked consistently to get better, then you got the chance to play. But the team was always bigger than any individual member. And, that is what everyone knows Butler is all about now.
KM: Talk about your ups and downs as a player.
CJ: That is a great question. As a freshman I didn’t play a lot. There were five seniors on the team then. So I had a lot to learn. I thought that I was going to come in and take somebody’s spot. That is what every freshman thinks—that you are going to conquer the world and you are going to come in and play right away. And so I learned a lot pretty quickly. And, by the end of my freshman year, I had earned some playing time.
Coach Collier would always ask me the question: Do you want to look good or be good? Because I had some “look good” in me on my way in the Butler door. I learned a lot about the substance of the game and about what it actually takes to be a good player and to be a good teammate, and to be part of a good program. Once I understood these things and committed myself to them, I was able to earn some playing time as a sophomore.
Now, funny side story—in the past I have been the coach working with the guards and point guards. As a player, Coach Collier started me at point guard. Butler had brought in Thomas Jackson, who is a Butler Hall of Fame point guard, and one of the best to ever play here.
The first four games of the season, I am starting at the point and averaging over 25 turnovers a game. We are 0 and 4. Coach Collier flips Jackson and me and he runs the point and all of the sudden we got better. So, Coach knew better. Thankfully, we did get better and were able to experience three tournament runs over four years and then the last year to finally win a NCAA tournament game. That was a big deal back then because Butler hadn’t won a tournament game yet and we were just getting over the hump.
KM: Do you maintain relationships with past teammates?
CJ: I’m probably more in touch with my Butler college teammates than my high school teammates. A few of them were even in my wedding. But I do still see and talk to a few from high school and not necessarily were they players. You’ve always got those couple of guys that are just your close buddies—your friends. It is ironic that you spend about 18 years at your community school and only four years at college but the connections that I made at college with players like Mike Marshall and Jason Meyers and the seniors on my first team—those are special guys. And, they laugh and remind me what I was when I walked through those gym doors and support the transformation to what I am now.
It is special to hear from them and they are all rooting for me, the other coaches, and the whole team—and I feel a responsibility to succeed for all of them because you know they all have your best interest in mind—the best interest of Butler. At Butler everyone really does become your family.
KM: What made you want to become a basketball coach?
CJ: I didn’t always know that I wanted to coach. I wanted to play. My dream was that I was going to be the first Butler player to play in the NBA. That wasn’t reality. I played a year overseas in Norway after I graduated from Butler and played a year in the D League in Hunstvillle, Alabama. Then, after that, I decided that I didn’t want to go overseas to play and was trying to decide next steps to stay closer to home.
At Butler, I studied Journalism and Public Relations with an emphasis on the PR side of things. I was out interviewing for a few jobs in Marketing and Sales and PR. And, then, Coach Lickliter, who was here at the time, offered me a spot.
At that time, Mike Marshall was the Director of Men’s Basketball Operations (DOBO) but he really wanted to be an Athletic Director. And as he moved into administration, Coach Lickliter gave me the opportunity to try out a basketball staff position. So I quickly jumped into the DOBO seat and fell in love with the mentorship piece of the job. In the DOBO role you are not coaching, you are doing all of the operations and administrative things for the team that need to happen, but you do get to be a mentor and big brother to the players, especially the first-year players who don’t know anything. Sharing the Butler philosophy, the basketball stuff, was probably easier because this was a system that I knew and that I could talk about and communicate to the players.
I always say that coaching is a calling. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a coach. But then you get called to do it…and you can’t ignore that feeling that this is what you are supposed to do.
KM: Tell us about the new coaching job here at Butler and what does it mean to you and your family?
CJ: It means a lot. It is obviously unique to be able to come back and coach at your alma mater. For my family, my wife is from Indianapolis and attended North Central High School, so she is coming home. And my three daughters get to see where Daddy went to school and be around what I had been around during my college years. They have heard me talk about Butler as they have grown up and now they get to live it with us and that is special.
And, obviously, I feel a great responsibility to make sure that the guys that are playing here understand, and for them to continue to understand, how special it is to play at this high level of basketball and how special it is to play that basketball here at Butler.
I think that it is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us…we are going to do everything we can to make the Butler family and community proud and we are going to need the players that have been in the program the last couple of years to really step up and mentor the new young players.
CJ: You know, coaching here at Butler is a dream come true. We can all feel the energy building toward that first tip and excited about what is next for the program, the team, and the fans.
We are just going to work every day to make everyone proud to be a Bulldog.