Georgia Tech forward Jordan Usher doesn’t know yet when he’ll be able to play. It could be late December, it could be the start of the 2019-20 season. Whenever, he plans to launch like a rocket.
“A lot of energy,” Usher said recently, in his first interview since transferring from USC in January. “A whole bunch of passion, a lot of good things. A whole bunch of good things. I can’t even really sum it up. I feel like I’m going to have a big impact.”
To those who know him, it would be no surprise. Usher, a graduate of Wheeler High whose home is in Canton, has to continue to develop his skill set. But his motor, the quality that coach Josh Pastner prizes perhaps higher than anything, needs no fine-tuning.
“One of the things that always stood out to me with Jordan was the intensity that he played with,” said Mario Mays, Usher’s assistant coach at Wheeler. “You could never look up and see Jordan not going 100 miles an hour. In a day and age where a lot of kids are just on a basketball court (acting) super super cool, that wasn’t an issue for Jordan.”
Tech strength-and-conditioning coach Dan Taylor saw it just a few days after Usher transferred. On Jan. 9, the Yellow Jackets played at home against Virginia Tech, two days after the start of the semester. Usher was only getting to know his new team, but he was clapping his hands and encouraging his new teammates, Taylor said.
At one point, Tech guard Brandon Alston and Hokies guard Justin Robinson briefly squared off, and Usher took it up a notch from his spot on the bench. Taylor said that Usher, barely even knowing Alston or most of his teammates, “was ready to go with war with us.” That was the moment, Taylor said, that he was sold on Usher.
“He’s not about waiting,” Taylor said. “He’s two feet in, probably with everything he’s done in his life.”
Add that to the physical tool kit that Usher, who is 6-foot-7 and a thick-chested 225 pounds, brings with him to the Jackets. Taylor takes players to the Emory Sports Medicine Center to test them in a sports-performance laboratory that does motion analysis to assess injury-risk factors and biomechanical performance. The P3 lab has a vast database of NBA players who have undergone screenings. Taylor said that Usher is in the “99th percentile, against an NBA cohort, to produce force.”
Put another way, Taylor said, “his ability to go from 0 to 100 is extremely high.”
It was Tech and Pastner’s fortune to be the logical destination for Usher when he decided in late December that he wanted to be closer to home. Usher had his eyes on the West Coast as a high-schooler (his first three years were at Sequoyah High before he transferred to Wheeler for his senior year) and, liking the USC coaches and players, he decided on the Trojans.
He averaged 14.1 minutes as a freshman, mostly coming off the bench, with 4.8 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. As a sophomore, he had increased minutes and production. However, he began feeling homesick, the pain hitting him when teammates had family and friends at Trojans’ games while he had none. When he returned home for the holidays, his mother, Karen, noted that it was the first time that he said he wished he didn’t have to go back.
In late December, Usher was suspended by the team for unspecified conduct issues. The following day, on New Year’s Eve, Usher announced his plans to transfer. As he and his mother packed up his dorm to leave, his phone began buzzing with text messages from interested college coaches, including Pastner.
When Karen gave Jordan a reprieve from packing to check messages, he came back reporting only one conversation.
“The first thing he said was, ‘I just spoke to coach Pastner,’” Karen said. “I said, ‘At Tech?’ He said,” here she assumed an exasperated tone, “‘Yes, Mom.’”
Usher, an only child and self-described mama’s boy, wanted to get away from home when he was in high school, only to realize how nice it is to be home.
“I wanted to get back home,” Usher said. “I knew a guy like coach Pastner would help me take my steps to the next level with how disciplined he is. And he’s really been doing that. I really feel like I’ve had growth in my game, on the court, off the court, for sure.”
Usher spent the remainder of this past season playing on the scout team, doing extra weightlifting work and being highly supportive from the bench, as Taylor attested.
“That’s how I am,” Usher said. “I’ve got passion for it. If I’m on your team, I’m on your team.”
A request for a hardship waiver is in the works. If it’s granted, he will play at the start of the season in November. Otherwise, he’ll have to wait until the end of the fall semester.
Karen addressed the suspension, saying that Jordan’s behavior was affected by his longing to be home, but said that, now, “he’s happy and healthy.” Both she and Usher’s father, Henry, (who lives in Cobb County) are delighted, as well.
Usher heads into summer workouts with plans to develop his skill set and match it with his intensity and fast-twitch body. His availability, along with the return of most of the roster and the transfer of sharp-shooting guard Bubba Parham from VMI, are among many reasons that the Jackets have hopes to contend for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2010.
“I want to get better at everything,” Usher said. “I want a full reload.”