After escaping Memorial Gymnasium four days earlier with an overtime victory over Vanderbilt, LSU nursed a one-point lead over the visiting South Carolina Gamecocks with 32 seconds remaining on Jan. 28.
As South Carolina's Tyrone Johnson threatened to cut into that lead, Jordan Mickey snuck over to the right block and met Johnson at the rim. The airborne LSU forward smacked Johnson’s layup attempt off the glass. As the shot clock expired, Mickey enticed the roaring Tigers crowd. Not long ago he sat among them to watch his stepbrother, James Wright, win the 2007 BCS National Championship as a wide receiver.
“The atmosphere, people down there take football so serious—from the tailgating to when it’s game time—it’s just a great experience to be out there,” Mickey told SI.com.
Some 20 seconds later, after Mickey converted two free throws to put LSU up four, he and Johnson clashed at the cup once more. The 6’8" Texas product turned Johnson back yet again and initiated a scrum underneath the Tigers’ basket. Amid the chaos, South Carolina’s Sindarious Thornwell scooped up the loose rebound. Mickey rejected his attempt as well, bouncing off the hardwood as if Baton Rouge wasn’t limited by gravity.
Mickey blocked three of South Carolina’s final five shot attempts, each rejection coming within a span of 26 seconds. The sequence perfectly displayed Mickey's raw athleticism, an innate gift he's spent only a few years molding into defensive prowess.
Just six years earlier, he stepped onto an organized basketball court for the very first time after a childhood that consisted soccer, football, and trips to the movies with his family.
Mickey’s stepfather, James Wright Sr., who spurned overseas opportunities for a job with Chevron Oil, once starred at center for Abilene Christian University. He earned Lone Star Conference MVP honors in 1985 after averaging 15.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Wright and Mickey’s mother, Torana Hunter, never wanted to pressure Mickey to pick up his stepfather’s sport.
Mickey and Wright frequented the colossal AMC multiplex in the North Park Mall. After Mickey sprung past 6-feet tall, the towering father and son needed to sit in the back row of the theater. Mickey enjoyed the view, easily surveying the entire screen, a vantage point he would later experience from the back line of LSU’s defense.
With Wright’s help, Mickey quickly matured from a lanky, inexperienced high school freshmen into a top-five prospect in all of Texas. “He was definitely behind everybody else and the way to get on the floor was to play good defense, rebound and block shots,” Wright said. “I taught him a theory: Every shot is going to the same place. Which makes it fairly easy.”
Wright helped establish Mickey’s opportune timing, which was the missing piece for a player with natural leaping ability. Wright stressed the importance of erasing shots before they reached the peak of their arc in conversation with Mickey, who quickly emerged as a defensive stalwart.
Mickey led the nation in blocks this season, erasing 3.5 per game and finishing his career second in blocks in Tigers history. He trailed only Shaquille O’Neal.
Mickey’s commitment to defense and rebounding now have him on the verge of breaking into the first round of this week’s NBA draft. “That’s what he brings to the table at any level that he plays,” Wright said.
He scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting in his first scrimmage at the combine, adding eight rebounds and a staggering eight blocks. He continued to thrive in the pre-draft workout circuit that followed.
Wright teases Mickey about his love of the movies as a youngster, stating that he only enjoyed them so much because he got to go out to dinner immediately after trips to the theater. Mickey remembers being fixated on the previews. “I’m always thinking which ones I would look forward to,” Mickey said. “I always look to the future, I would say.”
Now, Adam Silver calling his name will certainly be in his future.