On Wednesday, college basketball’s official signing day, the University of Utah signed forward Jordan Loveridge out of West Jordan High School.
The state’s top prospect, Loveridge will cap a brilliant high school career this season with the Jaguars, in which he has helped lead his team to the state tournament in every year he has played.
Barring injury or unforeseen circumstances, he will suit up for the Utes next year, becoming the highest profile in-state prospect that Utah has seen in many years.
“In my opinion Jordan was the best player in Utah this year and it really makes a statement that we could keep him here. He had as good of a summer as anyone in the country and he epitomizes what we are looking for in several different facets,” said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Being placed on such a pedestal wasn’t always the case for Loveridge.
Up to the point where Coach K had entered the picture, Loveridge‘s own high school coach Scott Briggs often lamented to me that his star player was merely a blip on the radar screen at in-state colleges.
As a reporter at The Valley Journals, I had the privilege of covering Jordan and the Jaguars for three years. At the start of his junior year, Loveridge had amazingly received just one full-ride offer–from Weber State–and even Notre Dame showed some interest, but never fully committed.
What was astonishing about Loveridge and the lack of interest from in-state schools was that his pedigree was simply astounding.
An Honor Roll student with a 3.7 grade point average, the soft-spoken, 6-foot-8-inch forward was always a man among boys, yet a gentleman and a friend to everyone.
Even when he was a freshman, he stood tall at 6 feet, 6 inches and played meaningful minutes in the Jaguars’ state championship run that year as a reserve forward.
It didn’t take him long to grow into his frame and become a leader on the basketball court as well. For several years, he played on the AAU Pump-N-Run, eventually earning a spot on its Elite 17U squad.
This past summer, Loveridge not only played on Utah’s best amateur team, he led it to a 12-2 record at the very prestigious Adidas Super 64 tournament in Las Vegas, the place to be seen if you’re a high school basketball player.
“Jordan proved that he can play with anyone in the country this past summer,” said Todd Phillips, Salt Lake Community College head men’s basketball coach and Utah Pump-N-Run Elite 17U head coach in a statement. “He is a great kid and an extremely talented basketball player. I’m sure the University of Utah is proud to have him.”
The Utes almost missed out on Loveridge. Not until Krystkowiak was hired at Utah did the Utes even pay attention to the 6-foot-8-inch forward and Utah–with all of its problems and player defections unraveling the program–certainly wasn’t on Jordan’s mind either.
Loveridge, who was the fourth leading scorer in the state last year, led his high school team to a 19-4 record overall, and his Jaguars even won a region title before being eliminated in the Class 5A state quarterfinals by eventual champions Lone Peak.
Even with Loveridge’s gaudy numbers and dual Academic and Ahtletic All-State pedigree, all former Utah coach Jim Boylen ever did was dispatch an assistant coach to scout him.
That was one of many mistakes Boylen made along the way with the Utes. Over the past few years, and since Rick Majerus left the program, the Utes have not recruited their own state very well.
BYU and Utah State have routinely out-recruited the University of Utah, and the trend is disturbing when you look at each school and how it correlates to the number of NCAA Tournament appearances and conference titles, and overall wins.
Not surprisingly, both the Cougars and Aggies were on Loveridge’s wish list of schools he would have liked to play for–before Krystkowiak made the 15-mile drive to West Jordan High School and let Jordan know the Utes were interested, on just his second day on the job.
Fortunately for the Utes, Loveridge made his verbal commitment in August and the rest was history.
“Jordan has great toughness, excellent motor and great leadership skills as well. In the time I have been here, his work ethic has been very impressive. He addresses his weaknesses tirelessly and he is a very driven player,” said Krystkowiak.
A storied basketball program like Utah’s has needed to take this plunge for quite some time, and finally take a hard look at the players this state has to offer without redshirting them or forcing them to walk-on.
Briggs has always indicated to me that Loveridge should be considered among the top players in the state.
“For Jordan [Loveridge] to be putting up those kinds of numbers in a 32-minute high school game is pretty impressive. There’s no question he’s worked really hard to get skilled enough to do that,” said Briggs last year in an interview.
So why did it take schools so long to watch this kid play, especially when you consider that what sets him apart from other players is his work ethic and his personable demeanor off the court?
It isn’t because of the West Jordan basketball program itself. The Jaguars have sent several players to Division I schools in the past few years.
Loveridge is arguably the biggest name ever to come out of West Jordan, period.
In addition to Loveridge, the Utes also signed four other players Wednesday, including 6-foot-7-inch, 210-pound forward Josh Hearlihy (North Hollywood, Calif.), and forward Jeremy Olsen, a 6-foot-10-inch, 235-pound banger from Georgia who is currently on an LDS mission.
Also inking their signatures were guard Justin Seymour out of Marietta, Georgia and center Dallin Bachynski, a 6-foot-11 Canadian who recently returned from his LDS mission.
Of those five, Loveridge is obviously the Utes’ big get.
“We love his skill level and versatility at the `three’ or `four’ positions and he worked really hard on that this summer. He can be tough and strong at the `three’ and a skilled shooter at the `four’. Jordan and all of our signees will be terrific building blocks for this program,” said Krystkowiak.
To give you an idea of the impact Coach K had on Loveridge, the moment he became involved in the West Jordan star, so too did Pac-12 schools like Colorado and Arizona.
In the end, the good guy, or Loveridge, won out, over mouthy hoopsters with too many tattoos and not enough class.
It rarely works out that way, particularly in a cutthroat, money-talks, brand-name sport like college basketball that relies too much on personality and not enough on doing the right things in life. But sometimes, it just so happens that when you give, others will give back.
For example, Briggs, his staff and players have been holding basketball camps for underprivileged, special needs and handicapped children at West Jordan High School for many years. It is among the biggest social events in this tight-knit farming community all year.
Loveridge himself has been a part of this camp as a peer leader now for three years, and he’ll participate in his fourth this spring. Perhaps all of his sacrifice, and his hard work on and off the court, has translated to something larger than he could have ever imagined.
One Saturday each spring, when the basketball no longer bounces on the court, Loveridge chooses to return back to his high school gym to help those who can’t help themselves.
And now, the new big man on Utah’s campus, himself a hard-working, no-nonsense guy like his new coach, a hard-working, no-nonsense guy from Montana, have something in common.
It’s up to them to help resurrect a struggling but storied basketball program.