"I'm having so much fun," Jeff Jordan told me last week. "I'm glad I decided to give this a try."
Yes, it's true. With no athletic scholarship offer, Michael Jordan's oldest boy had to join the Illini as a walk-on. He's averaging a measly 4.2 minutes per game and has made just three shots all season. Statistically, he sounds like a rare heir to Rare Air.
The refreshing thing is that, at Illinois, no one seems to care.
Nearly three months into his college career, Jeff isn't being deified by Illini fans. He said his classmates don't sweat him because of his dad or tease him because he can't do a 360-dunk.
Instead they're treating him like any other college student, which is all Jeff ever hoped for in the first place.
"I actually dealt with it more in high school than I do now," Jeff said of the attention he often receives because of his father. "On campus everyone has been great. Sometimes we'll go out to eat when we're out of town and people will (approach) me. But my teammates look out for me in those situations."
"Even then, it really doesn't affect me much," Jeff said. "I've been dealing with it my whole life."
It's not as if Jeff hasn't received any fanfare during the last few months. When Illinois opened the season with an exhibition tour of Canada, Jeff had to conduct a separate press conference each day to accommodate the throng of media that was tracking his every move. One evening, when players went to eat dinner, strangers began yelling Jeff's name and taking his picture as he stepped off the team bus.
Of course, at that point, he was just glad to be on the Illini roster.
Wasn't long ago when Jeff figured his basketball career would end after his final high school game. He averaged 15 points as a senior at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Illinois, but without any big-time scholarship offers, he seemed content to give up the sport and enroll at Illinois on an academic scholarship.
"I was just going to be a regular student," he said. "But then I met the guys on the team and got along with all of them so well. I figured I'd come in with no expectations and see how I did the first year. If it didn't work out, it didn't work out." Even though he hasn't played much of a factor for the Illini, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Jeff said he couldn't be more pleased with his progress the first year.
A wing player in high school, Jeff has moved to point guard at the request of head coach Bruce Weber, who praised the freshman for adapting to a new position.
"Even if you were a point guard in high school, the intensity level here is so much higher," Weber said. "Some freshmen get in there and play scared. But he doesn't do that. He's very aggressive."
Weber said Jeff's biggest weakness is his three-point shooting, but he praised his midrange game and his ability to slash into the paint.
"He's as humble as any kid we have in our program," Weber said. "He's proud to be Michael's son, but at the same time he enjoys being Jeffrey Jordan."
As for dear old dad, Michael Jordan was on hand to watch Illinois play Duke in the Maui Invitational in November, but he's yet to attend a game in Champaign because of his duties as the part-owner of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
Still, that doesn't mean Jeff isn't asking his old man for advice.
"He's pretty hands-off," Jeff said. "He only gives me information when I come to him and ask for it. I still take advantage of it. I'm not doing it as much as I did at the beginning of the year, but if I have any questions or I want him to watch me on TV and critique me, I call him so he can give me some feedback."
The information seems to be coming in handy. Weber said he wouldn't be at all surprised if Jeff became a significant contributor for the Illini by the time he's a junior.
If that happens, the spotlight that seems so dim may suddenly become bright.
George's Bar & Grill in Waco, Texas – Be sure to check back next week for a review of my favorite all-time place to eat and drink.
Funny Quote – Last week I interviewed Kansas coach Bill Self for a feature I was writing on Kentucky's Billy Gillispie, his former assistant. I asked Self if it was true that Gillispie rarely slept. "I couldn't tell you," Self said. "I never slept with him."
Andy Kennedy – How he ever finds time to coach the Ole Miss basketball team while maintaining his job as the lead singer of Midnight Oil is beyond me. How can he sleep when his bed is burning?
The Triumph and Tragedy of World Class Championship Wrestling – Got this DVD for Christmas. It's a must-watch for anyone who followed wrestling at the Dallas Sportatorium in the 1980s. It was a little heavy on the Von Erichs, but there is plenty of good interview footage with the Freebirds, Wild Bill Irwin and Gary Hart, as well 10 exciting matches featuring the likes of Bruiser Brody, Jimmy Garvin, Kabuki and The Missing Link.
Another really tall guy – I figured I was stating the obvious last week when I said that Kenny George, a 7-foot-7 center at UNC-Asheville, was the tallest player in college basketball. Well, it turns out there's another behemoth roaming the hardwood this season. Florida Tech freshman Paul Sturgess also stands 7-7. At 300 pounds, he's a bit lighter than George, who weighs 360.
Chicken on Stick – My friends in Oxford, Wright and Mitch, made me promise to stop in at the Chevron Station on Lamar to try this local delicacy. But when I pulled in just past midnight there was a line 30-deep – and I don't think people were waiting for lottery tickets. Stuff must be good.
Cameron Indoor Stadium – Covered my first game at Duke's legendary gym a week ago. Everything you've heard is true: It really is that amazing.
Southwest Airlines' new boarding procedure – No more arriving early to claim your place in line or hip-checks when people try to butt-in. Traveling with Southwest has gotten so much easier.
Monte Carlo – I cringed while watching the live coverage of the fire at the Las Vegas casino. Did you know you can have your own, personalized bobblehead doll made at the Monte? Luckily the damage was minimal.
MTV – Jeez Louise! Enough with America's Top Model marathons!
Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon – Did you hear about the meltdown Turgeon had after his team's loss to Kansas State last week?
On his weekly radio show, Turgeon said: "No matter what I do, (Billy) Gillispie is getting the credit if we win," Turgeon said of his predecessor, who's now at Kentucky. "But if we lose, it's my fault. I'm in a no-flipping-win situation this year, and that puts me in a bad mood."
Gee, coach. A little sensitive?
LSU coach John Brady – Heck of a year for the LSU coach, whose team is 7-12 just two seasons after making the Final Four.
Loud cell phone talkers – In case you're wondering, the guy 12 rows back from me on a recent flight has a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m., so please hold his calls. And have Sherry schedule a lunch with the project manager for Tuesday so they can finalize the draft of the Phase Two proposal, the one for $85,000. (Funny the lengths some people go to in order to feel important).
Corky's Barbeque in Memphis – Not even in the same league as Interstate or Cozy Corner. I'm told my next trip needs to include stops at Rendezvous and Gus' Fried Chicken.
Writer's Strike – I'm getting tired of re-runs, and the thought of no more Friday Nights is depressing.
Torrie couldn't have been more open and friendly while discussing her transformation from a shy teenager in small-town Idaho to one of the WWE's most recognizable divas. Her trek is one that included bouts with anorexia and bulimia, a first-place finish in the 1998 Miss Galaxy fitness competition and two appearances on the cover of Playboy.
Torrie continues to recuperate from a back injury that has kept her out of the ring for the past few months. But it's not like she's been idle. Her clothing store, Jaded, opened to rave reviews two months ago in The Woodlands, Texas. She's also expected to launch her own clothing line in the next few weeks. You can read about all of it at www.officiallyjaded.com. Hope you enjoy the interview:
KOTR: How did you get into the wrestling business?
TORRIE: I moved from Idaho to Los Angeles to pursue acting and fitness. I used to compete in fitness competitions. Anyway, my boyfriend at the time was a huge wrestling fan. He took me to my first wrestling show, which was a WCW show. We happened to know someone that knew all the wrestlers, so they got us backstage. Kevin Nash was back there, and he'd seen me in a fitness magazine. He approached me and said, 'Hey, you look like you belong in wrestling. Would you be interested in doing a three-month story line with us?' I was like, 'Sure, I'll try it out.' I fell in love with it.
KOTR: What did you like about it?
TORRIE: I grew up in a town of 2,500 people – McCall, Idaho. The fact that I got to fly to all these different cities every week was really exciting. I had probably only been on a plane twice before that experience. And, of course, walking out into those arenas full of people was crazy. It was almost like being a rock star. Even if you're not wrestling – even if you're just standing there – the feeling of the crowd and the energy is just indescribable.
KOTR: You mentioned fitness competitions and the attention you pay to your body. When did that become important to you?
TORRIE: In high school I had an eating disorder. I was anorexic for about two-and-a-half years. I just decided that I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. All I did was think about food and how I was going to starve myself and stay skinny.
KOTR: What made you become anorexic in the first place?
TORRIE: I went to a modeling agency in Idaho and they told me I needed to lose a few pounds. Then they were going to take me to New York to meet with some other agencies, and they said I needed to lose some more weight before I went up there. To me, if you tell me to lose 10 pounds, I think, 'Twenty would be better.' That's what happened. In that industry you get positive feedback for being so thin. It all just snow-balled. "I'm extremely sensitive. I'd read way too far into everything. It was ridiculous. Someone would tell me I was looking healthy and I'd take that to mean that I looked fat.
KOTR: What was the turning point? When did you realize that what you were doing was unhealthy?
TORRIE: I started to become bulimic. It was the most disgusting thing in the world. That's what opened my eyes. I was like, 'What am I doing to myself?' I was tired all of the time. I was always thinking about food. That really bothered me. I wanted to think about other things than how many calories everything had or how I could trick myself into thinking I wasn't hungry.
TORRIE: I started reading fitness magazines and admiring the bodies of some of the women fitness competitors. Not the big bulky women, but the girls that had muscle that still looked feminine. I used to hang their pictures up on my wall and I would copy their diet plans. Their diet plans were obviously way different than the one I was used to, which was basically an apple a day.
KOTR: So what happened when you started working out?
TORRIE: I started seeing results that I liked. Getting into fitness helped me in so many ways. It helped me get out of an eating disorder and into a healthier lifestyle. Then I just progressed from there. I decided I wanted to compete in fitness competitions. At my first fitness competition I was discovered by three photographers and started shooting for fitness magazines. Pretty soon I was doing shoots with the girls I had posted up on my wall. I was about 21 at the time.
KOTR: Excited as you were to get into the wrestling business, did you ever think you'd actually get to mix it up in the ring?
TORRIE: Never. I was initially hired as a manager, so all I did was walk a wrestler to the ring and cheer him on. Sometimes I'd help him cheat to win. It was very easy and a good way to start. The wrestling industry was completely different than I expected. I never would've dreamed that I'd become a part of wrestling. I used to tease my boyfriend for watching it. Then I became a wrestler. Watching some of those girls beat each other up and throw each other around was not my idea of fun.
KOTR: But it ended up happening anyway.
TORRIE: Yeah, slowly they started asking me to learn how to take a back bump and other small things to protect myself in case I ever had to get in the ring. When you don't know what you're doing and you get thrown in front of 10,000 people, it's very terrifying. That was enough for me to take a little more interest in learning the craft. It's not something that came natural to me. I'm not a naturally aggressive person. I'm still learning. I feel like just now, in the last year or two, I've finally started to get it. It's definitely hard on your body. I'm a girly-girl. It took a lot of getting used to, landing on your back and building up certain muscles. But I wouldn't trade it for the world now. Once I started getting in the ring and feeling what the energy is like when the crowd is going 'oh' and 'aahh' and buying what you're doing … you just want to do it more and more.
KOTR: Do you think people realize the toll wrestling takes on your body?
TORRIE: Sometimes I wonder. Some people say, 'Oh, it's just a show.' But everything we do is very physical and very athletic. You have to be an athlete. I just had four big shots in my back for a nerve block. I've got two herniated discs and a bulging disc. And that's just me. I'm just a girl that doesn't wrestle half the amount that the guys wrestle. Some people's bodies take it better than others. I guess I'm just a little more fragile than most people.
KOTR: Who trained you? And is there anyone particular that you like to wrestle?
TORRIE: Fit Finlay is a wrestler on SmackDown. He's been in the industry a long time and he's taken a particular interest in helping the girls. Ricky Steamboat has been really helpful and Arn Anderson has, too. Anyone will help a girl if they ask for advice. I always have my best matches with Victoria. She's a very close friend of mine. We've known each other from way back when we used to compete against each other in fitness competitions. She's such a good wrestler and a good teacher. Most importantly, she's not afraid to make me look good. A lot of people don't like to do that, because in return it makes them look a little less. But she's so confident in her abilities that she's not afraid to look bad.
KOTR: Everyone talks about the hectic lifestyles that wrestlers lead. Tell me about your schedule.
TORRIE: The schedule can be pretty hectic. It's a year-round sport. We're on the road four days a week, every week. If you're there you want to work. This isn't a long-lasting career, so you've got to get it while it's hot and do it while you can. Everyone that's on the road pretty much wants to be on the road. We can't wait to get back out there. There are days that you miss family outings, but that happens with any job.
KOTR: Do you travel with anyone?
TORRIE: I ride with a couple of my girlfriends. We fly in, share a car, find a gym, work out, check into our hotel and then go to the show. That's what it is on the road. Sometimes we'll have a fun night on the road and experience the night life in Knoxville, Tennessee or wherever we are. It's so exciting, though. I've probably visited just about every single city in the United States, and I've been in a lot of different countries.
KOTR: Including Iraq, is that correct?
TORRIE: Yes it is. I've been there three times. It was an amazing experience. They were so thankful that we came and visited them. That was one of the most precious gifts that I ever could've received. Seriously, how many people can say that they went and visited troops in downtown Baghdad? I think it was really fun for them. They're off in a far off country. They don't get to see American people all the time. It's exciting when people come in and put a show on for you. Even the ones that weren't wrestling fans were genuinely excited to see us. We were there because we appreciate what they're doing. We'd go to the small places in the middle of nowhere that usually don't have visitors.
KOTR: You make a lot of public appearances and do a lot of autograph signings. What's the strangest gift or request you've received from a fan?
TORRIE: I've been given a lot of panties. Hopefully they've never been worn. People have asked me to sign their babies. I think every celebrity has funny, odd stories. I've got quite a few. I enjoy all the people I meet on the road – even the odd balls. They're giving me some great stories to tell my grandchildren someday.
KOTR: Speaking of the future, what do the coming years hold for Torrie Wilson?
TORRIE: I'd like to stick with wrestling as long as I can. I don't know how much longer my body can hold out. I opened my own clothing store in The Woodlands (a suburb of Houston). It's been open for about two months now and we have men's and women's clothing. I'm also launching my own clothing line. It's coming out soon and it will be on my website, www.officiallyjaded.com. We've got really fun shirts for Valentine's Day. Really cute, thermal shirts with hearts … lots of fun, girly stuff. I'm really, really excited about it. I'm having my first fashion show at the end of the month in Houston. So far the feedback has been unbelievable.
KOTR: Aside from your own clothing line, what else do you have in your store?
TORRIE: We have other labels, stuff like Ed Hardy, Rock & Republic and True Religion … all the fun stuff people wear these days. We've been open about two months now and it's been amazing. The first week we were open I went in the back and cried because I just couldn't believe that so many people were coming in and how many people were so excited about what I had to offer them. Things are going really, really well right now.
Me? There are three things I can't stomach: apple pie (not a fan of warm, slimy fruit), cooked carrots and – drum roll, please – tomato sauce. Or at least a lot of tomato sauce on pizza. Something about the shiny, red clumpy stuff oozing off the sides of each slice gives me tremors.
That probably explains why I wasn't all that impressed with legendary deep dish, Chicago-style pizza during my first visit to the Windy City a few years ago. Everywhere we went, I found myself scraping sauce off the pie and onto the side of the pan, where it settled into a gnarly-looking puddle that made me lose my appetite altogether.
I know, I know. Chicago is famous for its pizza, and I'm sure I'd love it if I were a deep dish kinda guy who liked to take a shot of tomato sauce with each bite. But I'm not, and the bottom line is that I had just about given up until something miraculous happened during my last trip to The Windy.
It was then that the missus and I stopped in Giordano's and ordered their thin crust pizza. Thin crust in Chicago? Hey, sue me.
After just one bite at Giordano's I knew there was a little slice of heaven, right there on Rush Street. Actually, make that a little square, because that's the shape of each piece. Fresh and crispy instead of loaded down and droopy, the pie at this place was almost as good as the thin crust pizza in New York.
Nothing will ever top the slices in the Big Apple, but I seem to find myself in Chicago more than Manhattan. Luckily, I'll always know where to go – and what to order.
***A few of my other favorite pizza places include: Campisi's, Scalini's and Prego's (all in Dallas), The Bronx and The Other Place (Kansas City), Vito's (San Francisco), Shakespeare's and Wise Guys (Columbia, Missouri), Zio's (Omaha) and anywhere in New York. Et tu, Brute? Et tu?
Many of you will probably call for my wing credentials to be revoked when I say this, but during a recent three-hour drive, my hunger got the best of me, so I pulled over and ordered some of the new wings at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
And I liked them. Actually, I really liked them.
Easy now, hold the phone. I'm not saying these bad boys are even in the same league as the places we've discussed in this space before. KFC would have nothing to cluck about if you pitted its wings against The Peanut (Kansas City), The Watering Hole (Lincoln), The Lazy Dog (Boulder) or any of my yet-to-be-visited places in Buffalo.
I'm just saying that, if you're having a wing attack and are low on options, the Colonel can provide your fix. And it's not like I wanted to give this place a plug. I'm a Popeye's guy by trade. Still, I couldn't help it.
Just like the commercial says, KFC's wings are spicy on the inside and breaded on the outside, without any sauce. So they're great for a car ride. Sure, your fingers may get greasy. But just like you would after eating a bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos, wipe them off under the seat of your rental car.
I wouldn't say these suckers are hot, but they've definitely got a bit of a kick to them. My advice: Ask for a few packets of hot wing sauce, squirt it into a puddle in the corner of the box and dip your wings into it like you would a French fry with ketchup (hopefully not from Whataburger).
Anyway, I'll be back with a real wing review next week, and trust me, it's not one you'll want to miss. In the meantime, someone make me feel better and tell me KFC is at least average.
(Warning: Don't be fooled. The wings that are discussed above are not the nasty, overly-sauced wings that KFC has been serving for years. These wings are new and are not even featured on KFC's Web site. At least not yet).
Girl Scout Cookies – Our seven-year-old neighbor, Olivia, just delivered this year's shipment: two boxes each of Caramel Delights, Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Cinna-Spins.
Parmesan and Garlic Cheez-Its – Finger-lickin' good.
Fruit Punch Vitamin Water – Being healthy never tasted so good.
Sonic Corn Dogs – One of the menu's hidden gems.
Jimmy John's – A great alternative for anyone tired of Subway. My favorite is the Italian Night Club (No. 9).
THIS WEEK'S FOOD POLL
With all the pizza discussion in "May I Suggest," I figured it was time to see who made the most popular pie. I'm a fan of the thin crust supreme at Pizza Hut. What about you?
FOOD POLL RESULTS …
In N Out – 25%
Wendy's – 22%
Burger King – 20%
Whataburger – 10%
Hardee's – 9%
McDonald's – 8%
Jack In The Box – 5%
Keep the emails coming. I'm not able to respond to all of them but, believe me, I'm reading each and every one. I'm also keeping a list of food and restaurant suggestions so I'll always have somewhere to visit – no matter what town I'm in.
"To answer your question about the Subway smell … it's the bread. I worked at Subway for three years. I'd come home and take a shower and just scrub and scrub and still smell like it. It's the bread and the seasonings they put on the bread."
Alexander from Whitewater, Wis.
KOTR: Last week I questioned why my clothes always smelled for hours after leaving Subway. Thanks, Alexander, for giving us the scoop.
"As a die-hard, long-time Pink's fanatic (who unfortunately lives in Hong Kong), let me help you with your dilemma. While playing football for UCLA in 1980, I used to make late night pilgrimages to Pink's. How I solved the "too-thin-weiner" problem was by switching to Pink's Spicy Kleibeisa Brats. It has the same flavor as the regular dog but it's big, fat and oh so juicy. Now I've opened and own six of my own restaurants, including a deli in Hong Kong where we serve a Pink's chili dog."
Adam Levin, Hong Kong
KOTR: Boss, send me back to Los Angeles. And if you ever need me to do a story in Hong Kong …
"How can you hate on the ketchup at Whataburger? It's delicious. I'm also concerned about the Yahoo! users who voted Burger King as the best hamburger when clearly Whataburger is superior. I blame that on geography and the fact that Whataburger is only in (the South)."
Calvin, San Antonio, Tex.
KOTR: No need for me to sample the ketchup again, Calvin. That stuff is nasty, and most people I know agree. The only regret I have about my comment is that it cast a negative light on Whataburger, which is easily one of my favorite fast-food establishments of all time.
"How can you write this fun article – which is very entertaining, by the way – yet not give any kudos to Beasley, Walker and the Kansas State Wildcats. Best start in 15 years."
KOTR: I'm a little tentative to praise a team that does nothing when its star player takes a squirt on the court but, hey, as long as Bill Walker keeps wearing his new diaper under his shorts, I'll let it slide.
"Angry Dog didn't deserve that."
Johnny Seale, Dallas, Tex.
KOTR: Johnny sent me a text after reading the derogatory comments I made about the Angry Dog's tasty but tiny wings in last week's King of the Road column. Actually, he's right. The Angry Dog in Dallas is one of the top places in D-Town for bar food. Burgers, chili dogs, quesadillas. It's all good – except for the wings, most of which are smaller than my pinky finger.
- Michael Jordan