UK Men's Basketball

‘Trying to look at the positive.’ Baseball setback paved Jordan’s way to UK basketball.

For Kentucky baseball pitcher Ben Jordan, the chance to join UK’s basketball team is an example of serendipity. A baseball door closing set the conditions for a basketball door opening.

This evolution from serious baseball setback to basketball dream come true began in Jordan’s senior year at West Carter High School. That’s when he suffered an arm injury requiring Tommy John surgery. Suddenly, a player with a 97 mph fastball and expectations of being drafted by a major league team had to re-evaluate. He decided to accept a scholarship to play baseball for UK.

“A lot of times kids question why injuries happen,” the player’s father, Kevin Jordan, said this week. “He was trying to look at the positive of why something happens to you in your life that was adverse. Make the best of it. Enjoy the opportunity that Coach Cal has given him.”

UK announced Friday that Jordan, who is 6-foot-9, would join the basketball team and provide added depth to its core of “bigs.”

After the Blue-White Game on Friday, UK Coach John Calipari spoke of the need to add front-court depth given Zan Payne and Dontaie Allen being sidelined. During the offseason, Calipari made no secret of trying — unsuccessfully as it turned out — to add another big man.

“He’s got a great way about him, a great disposition . . . ,” Calipari said of Jordan. “He’s big, 6-9, long-armed, pretty good basketball savvy.”

Cal called Mingione

Jordan joining the UK basketball team began with a phone call. Calipari called UK baseball coach Nick Mingione.

“He just asked me, ‘Nick, if you had a 6-9 pitcher, who would it be?’” Mingione said Tuesday. “I thought he was asking me who my ideal pitcher was. I’m, like, ‘I don’t know. A left-hander. Hammer breaking ball. 94, 96 (mph fastball). That’s probably a first-rounder.’”

Once Calipari said he was asking about any 6-9 pitchers presently on UK’s team, Mingione said he checked with his captains. Both mentioned Jordan. Then Mingione called Calipari back and mentioned Jordan. Calipari said that’s who he had in mind.

Kevin Jordan first learned of his son possibly joining UK’s basketball team on a phone call Tuesday of last week.

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Kentucky’s Ben Jordan warmed up with the Wildcats but did not play in last Friday’s Blue-White Game in Rupp Arena. Ryan C. Hermens rhermens@herald-leader.com

Ben called and said, “Dad, you’re not going to believe this. I just spoke to Coach Cal,” Kevin recalled his son saying. Ben told his father that he was going to UK’s practice that afternoon to get a sense of whether he could contribute.

Ben called his father the next day and said he thought joining UK’s basketball team was plausible. He asked for his father’s advice. Ben played basketball for West Carter High School, but hadn’t touched a basketball in three years.

“It was a big decision for Ben to make,” Kevin said. “Baseball being your primary goal. He is draft-eligible this year.”

Yet, Kentucky basketball is Kentucky basketball. It would be a dream come true for many Kentuckians, including Ben.

“He felt like it was something that would be very difficult to look back on as life went on and possibly be a regret not to go and be a part of this,” Kevin said.

Baseball can benefit

Mingione gave the move his blessing. Of being coached by a Hall of Famer in Calipari, plus being in Rupp Arena, Mingione said, “That’s better than any experience we can create over here in our environment.”

Playing basketball can help Jordan grow mentally, physically and behaviorally, Mingione said. “If he can’t walk around with the utmost confidence after banging with some of the greatest athletes that that sport has to offer . . . ,” the UK baseball coach said. “There’s no question he should carry himself better after doing that.”

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West Carter’s Ben Jordan blocked a shot by Greenup County’s Michael Hubbert in 2017. Jordan averaged 14.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per game during his senior season at West Carter and graduated as the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots. Kevin Goldy AP

So there at the Blue-White Game was Ben Jordan warming up with UK players while his parents, Kevin and Stephanie, plus two of his three sisters watched from their Rupp Arena seats.

When asked what this experience felt like, Stephanie said, “I would say it was a shock. It just doesn’t seem real yet.”

Kevin Jordan said his son called Monday to say the basketball practice had gone well.

“He actually got in and got to guard some,” Kevin Jordan said. “He was happy with how he performed. He felt like he competed well.”

Ben Jordan guarded Nick Richards in the practice, Kevin Jordan said.

The elder Jordan is a dentist in Olive Hill. He attended UK before going to dental school at Louisville. He graduated from U of L in 1994.

Ben Jordan, a redshirt sophomore, is majoring in biology, according to his UK baseball biographical sketch. His father said Ben is considering pharmacy school or dental school.

As for this school year, Ben Jordan’s time management skills are being tested. His father said a recent day saw his son throw a bullpen session, then attend a UK baseball scrimmage, then participate in a basketball practice. Mingione said Jordan will spend, maybe, a couple hours a week with baseball until the spring.

There’s also “very hard elective classes,” Kevin Jordan said.

“Ben’s always been someone that has performed well in the classroom. He tries to stay on top of things.”

Next game

Georgetown College at Kentucky

What: Preseason exhibition game

When: 5 p.m. Sunday

TV: SEC Network

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Jerry Tipton has covered Kentucky basketball beginning with the 1981-82 season to the present. He is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association Hall of Fame.
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