Triumphs and tribulations: How Jordan Geist has become a leader for MU basketball

As he prepares to end a basketball career that started at just 2 months old, those close to Geist recognize what’s made him the player and leader he is today.
Missouri point guard Jordan Geist flexes his biceps in celebration of an and-1 layup during a game against Oral Roberts on December 7, 2018

Two Jordan Geists existed at Ranger Community College during the point guard’s freshman year.

There was the homesick Geist: the one who called his father in Indiana to complain that Texas was too hot; that the basketball coach was too demanding; that he wanted to return home and play NAIA ball.

Then there was the Geist that Ranger coach Billy Gillispie saw: the one who "never missed one day of school, never missed one day of practice, never wasn't on time to class, never was late to practice."

That's the Geist that Jordan’s father, Scott, was approached about in February while officiating a high school tournament in Indiana.

A cameraman shooting the tournament introduced himself to Scott as a University of Missouri graduate. The proud father soaked in every word as a stranger raved about the growth of his son as a player and leader over the years at Mizzou.

“I know he’s turned into a great young man, but it’s been pleasant this year to see the fans kind of come around, from not seeing the kid with the chip on his shoulder to understanding that he just gives everything he’s got,” Scott said.

Jordan Geist always needed more than sheer talent to earn his way, but the MU senior has fought past plenty of adversity, including blame for a few big losses.

Most notable may have been a February 2018 loss to Ole Miss, in which he airballed a potentially game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds of overtime. He was also criticized for mistakes in losses to West Virginia, Arkansas and in the NCAA Tournament against Florida State.

“It’s been hard in the past two years, hearing some of the comments that people would say about him and his play,” Jennifer Perham, Jordan’s mother, said. “Last year, I couldn’t even get on social media because some of it was so bad and it made me sick to read it.”

Jordan stopped using social media as well during the ‘18 season and spent his time in the gym instead, rotating between three workouts: one for his outside game, one for his inside game and one for general ball handling.

“I think that a lot of the work you put in off the court gives you the confidence to take tough shots … and the more work you put in, the more confidence you get,” Jordan said.

That would explain why Geist is averaging 14.1 points per game this season, almost double his average a season ago. He’s also shooting 36.5 percent from behind the arc and grabbing 4.7 rebounds per game.

He may have also avenged the Ole Miss shot in the eyes of Missouri fans when he hit an improbable buzzer-beating 3 to force overtime against Central Florida on Dec. 2. Missouri went on to win 64-62, and Geist hit 5 of 8 triples to tie his career high. His Spanish mistranslation of a certain word during a post-game interview earned him a new nickname — “Big Kahuna” — and his status as a fan favorite was cemented.

At 2 months old, Jordan attended his first basketball game: an Indiana girls state championship. His dad was coaching the girls team at Elkhart Memorial High School. Once Jordan could walk, he started coming to practices.

“He was that little kid that used to make the local news during the basketball season highlights,” Scott said. “They’d see him on the sideline dribbling the ball or in the middle of the huddle. He was always wanting to be in the gym.”

In kindergarten, Jordan started playing travel basketball, not with kids his own age, but with 8 and 9-year-olds. He also played multiple sports through junior high, including soccer, football, baseball and track. However, he knew he would have to choose just one by high school if he wanted a realistic chance at being a collegiate athlete. All the time spent on the court at a young age seemingly made one sport beckon to him.

During Jordan’s senior season at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he played alongside Caleb Swanigan, an eventual star at Purdue who was drafted by the Portland Trailblazers. Together, the pair led Homestead to a state championship, while Jordan set a Homestead single-season record with 89 steals.

The success led Geist to a new opportunity, when Elkhart resident and former Michigan State Spartan Daimon Beathea offered him a spot in a program for prep basketball players to play in China on an 11-day tour.

“[Jordan would] tell you the food was awful and the basketball was good,” Scott laughed.

Good enough, though, that Jordan caught the attention of Billy Gillispie.

Jordan only went on a handful of Division 1 visits his senior year, so when Gillispie gave the Geists a call, it felt like the most beneficial option for Jordan’s future successes.

“I was a little nervous about him going that route because you never know what could happen,” Jennifer said. “But Jordan seemed pretty confident in it.”

That confidence was tested in Jordan’s first few months at Ranger as homesickness developed. Jordan always had a list of complaints for his father.

However, Gillispie never heard any of them.

“He has this really strong drive,” Gillispie said. “He was determined that he was going to play at the very highest level.”

By the time the Rangers finished fourth at the 2016 NJCAA Division 1 National Championship (with Jordan earning second-team All-American honors), there were more than two dozen mid-major schools knocking on his door, Scott said.

The small D1 schools were one thing, but Geist aspired to more. He needed to be “discovered.” His moment came in fortuitous fashion at the NJCAA championships, where then-MU coach Kim Anderson saw him play.

“Sure, he had some skill obviously,” Anderson said, “but he also played with a great deal of reckless abandon.”

When Jordan’s offer to play at Missouri became official, the Geist family was ecstatic.

“[Jordan] was extremely excited,” Jennifer said. “For me, there was also a little bit of a sense of relief that he got that offer because I wanted him to be able to realize his dreams.”

In his first season at MU, Jordan appeared in all 32 games and made 14 starts, averaging 7 points, three rebounds and two assists per game. He also averaged 28.6 percent from behind the arc.

“[He was] a great guy to coach cause he wants to get better,” Anderson said. “The year I had him, I really enjoyed coaching him.”

Despite the difficulties faced his junior year, including crucial in-game blunders that caused backlash from fans, Jordan recorded a team-high 95 assists and set a career-high point total when he scored 28 against Green Bay.

Missouri’s NCAA Tournament berth that March spelled a dream come true for Jordan and his family. Scott described it as “a climax for [Jordan’s] basketball career thus far.”

“It was one of his lifelong dreams. It was unbelievable,” Jennifer said, choking up at the thought. “Sorry, I don’t know why I’m getting emotional right now.”

Jordan’s improvement from 2017-2018 to now is evident in more than just his statline.

He’s received honors like a spot on the Paradise Jam All-Tournament Team and set new career records, such as his first career double-double against LSU. However, most people who know Jordan will say his most obvious improvement has been in his leadership ability.

“We can look at Jordan and he know every spot on the floor, like whenever a play is getting called, he’s the first person to look at,” sophomore forward Jeremiah Tilmon said. “He just stepped up and try to be a leader more.”

Jennifer believes Jordan’s aptitude for leadership started with his younger siblings, Jazmyne, a sophomore forward at Northern Kentucky University, and Jackson.

“His sister definitely looks up to him,” Jennifer said. “He’s been a great role model for her, especially in college and seeing how hard he worked to get his goals met.”

Jackson, Jennifer’s son and Jordan’s half brother, has recently begun playing basketball and loves to pretend he’s his older brother on the court.

“Jordan and Jackson have a special bond,” Jennifer said. “I don’t know what it is about the two of them but they are extremely, extremely close.”

Other coaches have noticed Jordan’s improvement and leadership throughout this season as well.

“When you got better leadership, especially in that point guard position, it’s a big advantage for your team,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said after the Commodores lost to the Tigers on Feb. 2. “Geist brings a lot of confidence to the floor, he makes a lot of winning plays.”

Jordan’s also noticed the difference in himself, noting his leadership role as the biggest improvement he’s made since coming to Missouri.

“Probably just like, the leadership aspect,” Jordan said at a press conference on Feb. 22. “I think that helps me with confidence, helps me just play better, so I think that boosts all parts of my game.”

As the end of the regular season approaches and any hope of a post-season seems slim for the Tigers, Jordan hopes the younger guys can learn one thing from him.

“The work you put in in the offseason can really help you in the season,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how much that actually helps. When people are getting tired, and you’re still hitting shots late on in the season, it really helps you, that work you put in in the summer.”

Edited by Adam Cole |

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