Forward Jala Jordan has played across the college basketball landscape over the past five seasons but is now finally where she has always wanted to be at Pitt.
Jala Jordan’s father, Gerald Jordan, played for the Panthers in his final two years, after starting out at Morgan State and sitting out a year due to transfer rules. Standing as a 6-foot-11 forward, he averaged 8.7 points as a junior and 7.9 points as senior, playing in 55 games and starting 25 as a Panther from 1995-97.
While Jordan is now a Panther after committing to the program in May, she took a long journey to eventually end up in Oakland.
Jordan grew up on the other side of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She played high school basketball for St. Frances in Alpharetta, Ga. in the Atlanta metro and finished at the prestigious IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
She started off college playing for rival West Virginia in the 2018-19 season as a first year. Jordan didn’t see much playing time, averaging 1.6 points, 1.1 rebounds in just 6.0 minutes per game as a reserve player, and chose to transfer to find a better fit.
Auburn ended up being the landing place for Jordan, where she would stay for the next three seasons. She redshirted and sat out the 2019-20 season per NCAA transfer rules, the last season before the transfer portal started, and then played in the COVID-19 impacted 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.
Jordan spent that season she sat out training and getting better over time. She learned to adjust to the system and stringent press under then Tigers head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy and improved as a player.
She would play in 15 games, starting seven and averaging 7.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 16.8 minutes per game, respectively, as a redshirt sophomore for Auburn. Jordan made 28 appearances and started seven games, while averaging 6.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 16.6 minutes per game as a redshirt junior in her final season there.
Looking to find a way to be closer to home, Jordan transferred following her redshirt junior season to Big East school in Seton Hall, located in South Orange, N.J., only an hour and a half from Philadelphia.
She played in 29 games, starting two, and averaged 5.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 12.0 minutes per game last season. Her 0.8 blocks per game placed her at No. 14 in the Big East conference during the 2022-23 season.
Jordan wished for a better outcome last season, in terms of more playing time and also more success with the team but enjoyed being closer to home.
Pitt fired head coach Lance White after five seasons with the program this March and hired Tory Verdi in his place a month later in April. Verdi brings to Pitt experience rebuilding programs, including Eastern Michigan from 2012-16 and UMass from 2016-23.
Jordan had a friend who played under Verdi at UMass, who was going to join him at Pitt and gave her his number. She contacted Verdi and the two soon planned an official visit for her to see the program.
One big moment that stood out for her on that visit came in a small folder. Inside contained pictures of her father from his time playing at Pitt in the mid-1990s.
“It was kind of like an emotional, surreal moment,” Jordan said on receiving her father’s pictures at Pitt. “It was really sweet, and I feel like that moment, there was the moment I was like, “Okay I’m going to come here.” Even though I took a day to tell him.”
Verdi said that he didn’t print those pictures out, rather, someone gave them to him. Still, he agreed with Jordan that it was an important part of the visit, and that family is crucial when it comes to a strong basketball program.
“On that visit, when it was time for her to leave, we sat down and we talked about her family,” Verdi said. “We talked about what was important to her and then I gave her the folder and she opened it and I think it was a moment that she appreciated, and she was very appreciative to go out of her way to find those photos of her dad and put them together for her. I think that was a difference maker for us and her decision making to come here.”
Joining a new program is enticing to Jordan as she embarks on her final season in collegiate basketball. She wants to help the team start off well and create a culture of success going forward, long after she is gone. She is also studying applied developmental psychology for the next two years at Pitt and she said she wants to say that this is a school she graduated from.
Gerald Jordan was one person who was also incredibly excited to see his daughter commit to Pitt. Jala Jordan said that he has always wanted her to play for Pitt and that every time she transferred, he would tell her to go the school he played at.
“Every single time I’ve transferred, he’s like, “Pitt! Look to see if Pitt has a spot open! I’m going to contact the coaches and everything!” Jordan said. “I guess it didn’t work out those past times because it wasn’t the right timing, but I feel like right now is the perfect time for me to make history and add history to Pitt. So, I’m super excited about that.”
Despite joining the team recently, Jordan has already bonded with players like USC transfer guard in junior Bella Perkins and senior forward Liatu King, her roommates. She has also worked mainly with assistant coach Ty Margenthaler, her position coach, focusing on aspects of her game like ball-handling and her inside game.
Verdi has had to rebuild this Pitt roster following the dismissal of White. Nine players left the program, giving him just four returning players. Jordan is one of four transfers on this roster, which includes two junior college (JUCO) players in guard Mia Simpson, forward Rapuluchi Ayodele and Perkins.
Building a program long-term means that you need players like Jordan. Players who have the experience in the Big 12, SEC and Big East and have the ability to imbue that understanding onto younger teammates. Verdi also sees a great athlete in Jordan, who stands at 6-foot-2, and one that can play all over the court.
“I like the fact that she can score it in so many different ways,” Verdi said. “There’s a lot of versatility there. She can score with her back to the basket, she can shoot from 15 or she can shoot the 3 as well. A lot of that is gonna help us with what we do. Defensively, she has a lot of length and as I previously said, she’s going to anchor us there defensively in the low post and I love her versatility.”
Jordan is ready to lead the Panthers and has been working on a variety of areas to improve her game. She is lifting weights more frequently than at Seton Hall and wants to spread the floor with good shooting from the perimeter.
In terms of her goals for the season, she hopes to grow closer with her teammates and her coaches as they strive to build a winning program. She also said that Pitt fans can expect to see a hardworking team, one that will never give up and will fight to the end, something that Verdi is instilling in this squad.
“I would honestly say to be a better leader and grow as a woman,” Jordan said on her personal goals. “To get ready for the real world because I only have one more year left and just take advantage of every opportunity that I have so I can build it for my future and help build a program. So, I’m just super excited.”