Twenty-five miles. That is the approximate distance that former Pirates point guard Jordan Theodore traveled from his hometown of Englewood to South Orange as a freshman in 2008, eager to don a Seton Hall uniform for the very first time.
A proud Garden State product, Theodore played with quintessential Jersey style from day one, flowing with confidence backed by an effusive passion for the game and desire to win. Deputizing for then-incumbent floor general Eugene Harvey in his first campaign, Theodore took his lumps as the first man off the bench for a team that won 17 games. His performances covered the full spectrum of a first-year guard finding his way, ranging from the forgettable, a one-point, four-turnover effort in his BIG EAST debut at Syracuse, to the promising, a 15-point, four-assist, four-steal showing at #10 Marquette.
One area in which Theodore managed to establish unwavering consistency was effort, a theme that would carry through his final days in blue and white.
In his second season, the budding star began to quietly seize control of the point guard position, even as the accomplished Harvey played out his swan song. Theodore parlayed an increased role into positive bumps in every major statistical category, most notably improving his scoring average by over three points per night and widening his assist/turnover ratio from 1.25/1 to 2.45/1.
By working his way to the forefront of the first Pirates team to advance to postseason in four years, Theodore sent clear signals that he was prepared to lead SHU into the future.
Prior to the start of Theodore's junior year, head coach Kevin Willard assumed his current position. Willard, a lead guard in his own right, brought with him an up-tempo offensive system that placed an added onus on play from the point.
Further thrusting Theodore into the spotlight was an early season injury to All-BIG EAST performer Jeremy Hazell that caused him to miss 13 games. Theodore responded with his trademark enthusiasm, accounting for more than one-third of the Pirates' field goals for the season through scoring or assists, as he left it all on the floor night after night. Through the growing pains, the Englewood native extracted lessons that would help him put together one of the more impressive senior campaigns by a Seton Hall player in recent memory.
With the ball firmly in his hands and as one of two scholarship seniors on a roster replete with underclassmen, it was overtly apparent that Theodore's play would go a long way towards determining how far SHU would go in 2011-12.
Perhaps in an act of unintentional foreshadowing, Theodore changed his jersey number to "1," the number often used to reference the point guard position in basketball terms, prior to his final season. Once a wide-eyed newcomer whose confidence birthed a propensity to play at breakneck speeds, Theodore blossomed into the paragon of a senior floor leader; steadily guiding SHU's young core to rarified heights.
Despite opposing defenses gearing schemes towards limiting his impact on the offensive end, Theodore emerged as a prolific attack option and turned in one of the finest individual seasons by a player in a Seton Hall uniform since the turn of the century.
An All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, Theodore led The Hall by scoring 16.1 points per game. He reached double-figures in scoring in 32 of 34 games on the year and coupled with his prowess in facilitating for others, recorded the first seven double-doubles of his career. His 226 total assists set a new single-season standard at the school, shattering Golden Sunkett's previous mark of 197 that had stood for almost 50 years.
Behind Theodore's stewardship, the Pirates cracked the top-25 polls for the first time in 11 years; notched two wins over opponents ranked in the top-10 and recorded the school's first victory in the National Invitation Tournament in over 55 years.
SHU finished the season with 21 wins, the program's highest win total in eight years.
Following the conclusion of the season, Theodore went on to lead all players in assists and earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team at the Portsmouth Invitational, an annual showcase of the nation's best seniors, as he positioned himself to pursue a professional future in the game.
The setting is Antalya, Turkey. Over four years removed from his collegiate debut and separated from home by an ocean and over 5,000 miles, Theodore now suits up for a new hometown team, Antalya BSB of the Turkish Basketball League (TBL).
Though he is realizing his dream of playing professional basketball, Theodore has not been unaffected by the difficulties associated with moving across the globe.
"The adjustment period was tough in the beginning," recounted Theodore. "First off, there was the seven-hour time difference. That threw everything off, from talking to my family to sleeping. Second, it was the food. I'm not able to just go home to my girlfriend and have a home cooked meal ready and waiting for me to destroy (laughing). I'm doing most of the cooking here and, I must say, I'm not a bad cook. Third, I was very homesick for the first month because I've never been away from home. For me to have to adjust to being away from Englewood for 10 months was hard for me to swallow."
Aside from the cultural shock a dramatic shift in his daily life off the court, Theodore had entered the volatile world of professional basketball.
Players abroad often encounter contract issues and must thrive under the pressure that comes with the possibility of being sent home at any given moment.
"There's a big difference from being a student-athlete to a pro athlete," Theodore added. "As a college athlete, Seton Hall was there to guide me and made a lot of decisions for me. But now that I'm a pro, I have to do many things on my own. I don't have [Coordinator of Basketball Operations] Grant [Billmeier] knocking at my door getting me up for class/work in the morning. The game has also changed. It's played at a much faster pace and the players are much better and more skilled. I'm matching up against point guards that are established in the NBA and throughout Europe."
"In college a lot of things are guaranteed, but at the pro level they aren't," Theodore continued. "If you don't perform at a high level every time you step on the floor, it will cost you your job, and they will find somebody to replace you. I've had two of my American teammates get released from my team already. They were rookies just like me. The game is no longer a hobby or a pastime; it's a profession and a business."
Amid all the outside factors, Theodore has managed to thrive, quickly establishing himself as one of the premier newcomers in the league. Through 15 contests, the SHU alum is Antalya's leading scorer, pouring in 16 points per game, an average that ranks ninth in the 16-team TBL. Theodore also sits among the top-10 assist-men in the league, one that is highly regarded on the international basketball scene, dishing out 4.3 per night.
On the defensive end, Theodore has used his quickness and acute basketball IQ to climb to the top of the league's steals chart, averaging 1.9 steals per contest to lead all players.
Opposing TBL teams should not be surprised; he has long displayed a penchant for pestering opposing guards, ranking ninth in SHU history with 179 career steals.
"The competition is great, I'm playing against some really talented players over here," lauded Theodore. "I am making a name for myself, but have 16 more games to go so we'll see where I end up at the end of the season. I'm getting better every game and that's very important to me right now."
An oft overlooked part of the transition to a professional league outside the United States is the many differences in rules between the American game and those utilized by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). These subtle nuances can further complicate things for a player trying to gain his footing on a new stage.
"The European game is very different, much more physical," cautioned Theodore. "You're able to do things you can't do back home like knock the ball off the rim after a person shoots. When you're on offense, you're allowed to push the defender off you with your off arm. These are all things I'm still adjusting to. The one I dislike the most is that before you can take a step, you have to put the ball down. I get called for travels all the time, but overall I'm having a blast.
As is common among international leagues, the TBL features a decided American flavor with more than 90 players from the United States sprinkled throughout its rosters. This presence can prove to be a resource for a newcomer such as Theodore, who has shifted roles from grizzled veteran to neophyte in less than a year.
"My teammates are helping me a lot," said the former SHU fixture. "I have four American teammates in Jamario Davidson (Alabama), Ron Lewis (Ohio State), Warren Carter (Illinois) and Rodney Carney (Memphis). All these guys have played either in the NBA or in Europe. They all have tons of experience and help me out a lot. I'm able to talk to them about any frustrations I have with the European style of play. I catch myself venting to them a lot because they've gone through what I'm going through now."
Though clichés such as "110 percent" are frequently abused within the lexicon of sports terminology, Seton Hall followers are keenly aware that if anybody embodies that extra mythical 10 percent, it's Theodore. An often underappreciated aspect of Theodore's collegiate career was that he completed his four-year stint without missing a single game. He registered the third-most appearances (129) and ninth-most minutes played (3,721) in school history, proving his durability and drive in spite of an unabashed aggressiveness that often left him crashing to the floor.
The same hustle and toughness that made him an SHU fan favorite cleared customs, and has quickly endeared him to the fans in his adopted city.
"I have a great relationship with the fans," beamed Theodore. "The people of Antalya are really nice and they've welcomed me with open arms. I've been to schools to talk to kids and sign autographs. You would be impressed with how many people speak English out here. Some of the kids are even trying to teach me Turkish. We'll see how that works out. I have a hard enough time with speaking proper English (laughing).
"The game of basketball is global," Theodore continued. "They really understand and love the game here. Being at a basketball game here is like being a futbol/soccer game back home. The fans never stop yelling and jumping up and down in their seats. It's an amazing site to see and the atmosphere is unbelievable."
Though he has fully embraced his new setting and the exciting prospects ahead of him, Theodore, always a proud Pirate, still looks fondly upon the memories he carries from his time at The Hall.
"Of course I do," exclaimed Theodore when asked if he follows the team from his international post. "I talk to my little brothers all the time. Everyone on the team has my number. I talk to Coach Willard and Sha all the time. It's great see Coach Steve making his funny faces and Coach Danny still with that good hair when I watch the games on TV. I can't forget about Coach Grant and Pomp. They saved me from a lot of early morning runs! I also want to take the time to say Congrats again to my main man Ryan [Whalen] on getting married over the summer. Go Pirates!"
Since the beginning of his senior season last fall, the former men's basketball point guard has put together a stretch of high-level performances that now have him poised to become a household name in professional basketball.
Though his journey may have taken him a world away from his treasured New Jersey roots for now, it remains clear that between the lines on a 94 x 50 piece of hardwood, Jordan Theodore is at home.
By Adam Satz
Assistant Director of Athletics Communications