Jordan Hulls’ journey brings him back to IU: ‘For me, it was something that I just couldn’t pass up’
Coming home this early — on a permanent basis — wasn’t part of the original plan. Jordan Hulls was playing for MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg in Ludwigsburg, Germany. This past season was his ninth playing professional. He planned on playing another two to three years. “I was still playing at a high level, in a good league, good competition, you know, one of the highest in Europe,” Jordan said Thursday via Zoom. But during that ninth professional season, an opportunity arose.
On the surface, Jordan has one of those fairy-tale-type stories. He is a Bloomington, Indiana, native, who grew up an IU basketball fan. He remembers attending Hoosier Hysteria — when it was at midnight — and bringing canned goods to donate. He eventually went on to play for IU — his hometown school. He then played for various professional teams.
But during that ninth professional season, the opportunity came. Jordan took it. He then finished out the season with MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg before officially starting his new tenure. He is now IU basketball’s team and recruiting Coordinator.
“If I was going to give it (playing basketball professionally) up, it would have to be for a situation to come back home, that’s really the only way that I would ever do that,” Hulls said. “…For me, it was something that I just couldn’t pass up. It’s an opportunity to learn from some really, really good coaches, guys who have been at the NBA level, college level for a long time.”
Almost everything was dark in Assembly Hall. Except for the banners and the center court circle. Those were lit up. It was late one night in 2008. Hulls was in between his junior and senior seasons at Bloomington South High School. Then-Indiana head coach Tom Crean was there, pointing at the banners, explaining that he needed someone like Hulls to help build the IU program back up. Crean offered him a scholarship. Jordan thanked him and said he wanted to talk to his family about it.
“It was a surreal feeling, to say the least,” said J.C. Hulls, Jordan’s father.
Hulls’ family has been connected to IU for multiple generations. J.C.’s father, John, was on Bob Knight’s coaching staff at Army, before joining Knight on his original staff at IU. He used to tell stories to Jordan about IU basketball’s tradition. Jordan’s other grandfather was a longtime professor at IU. His mother, Joni, and J.C. both grew up as IU fans and attended IU. That fandom was passed onto Jordan, who went to games at Assembly Hall growing up.
“He (Jordan) didn’t really know any different,” J.C. said.
When it came to playing college basketball, the choice for Jordan didn’t have to be IU. J.C. wanted to make sure that the school was the right fit. But for a while, it may not have mattered. His freshman, sophomore and junior seasons went by at Bloomington South and Jordan had zero offers. “I was sending out tapes to anybody who would even take a look at it,” Hulls said. But then came an AAU event in Pittsburgh in between his junior and senior high school seasons. One game, Indiana Elite wiped the floor with a team that highly-touted prospect John Wall played on. Jordan played really well. Then-Indiana associate head coach Tim Buckley was in attendance. Mike Krzyzewski of Duke was there, too (growing up, Jordan loved Duke and the job Krzyzewski was doing). Shortly after the event, Jordan had received a flurry of offers.
Krzyzewski said he wanted to offer Jordan, but first wanted to make sure it was a good fit. They tried to set up a visit to Duke but had difficulty finding time in the immediate future. Jordan took an unofficial visit to Purdue and talked to coaches at other schools, too. Jordan said he really wanted to go to IU. But J.C. told him to wait. He hadn’t even visited Duke yet. J.C. didn’t want it just to be an emotional decision. He wanted it to be the right fit. But Jordan was adamant and adamant. He wanted to go to IU. J.C. told Jordan he needed to call Krzyzewski and tell him of his decision. Jordan agreed.
“I said ‘what?’” J.C. recalled. “You’re gonna pick up the phone and you’re gonna call coach K and you’re gonna tell him that.’ He said, ‘yeah, I really want to go to IU.’” So Jordan went to his room and made the phone call. J.C. had Jordan let Painter know about his decision out of courtesy, as well.
Eventually, for his official commitment to IU, Jordan and a bunch of his family gathered at center court of Assembly Hall.
When trying to understand what Jordan Hulls is like as a member of IU’s staff, perhaps it’s important to understand what he was like as a player. On Thursday, Jordan mentioned some intriguing ideas.
“There’s so many different kids in the country, so just knowing that you’ve got to go out there and work,” Hulls said. “I know that is what worked for me and that’s still a good recipe for kids out there today.”
As Jordan essentially put it, working hard worked for him. In high school, Jordan would get to Bloomington South early to workout. He stayed after practice. One time, during a workout, he asked J.C. if it was always going to be this lonely. “I said ‘yeah’ because nobody is willing to do what you’re willing to do right now,’” J.C. recalled. The day after Bloomington South lost in the state playoffs of his junior season, Jordan was in the gym working out. “I just remember talking to him and saying ‘hey man, why don’t you take a break and take a couple of days to relax and just refocus,’” said Kyle Simpson, an assistant basketball coach at Bloomington South. “He’s like ‘no.’ He goes ‘I got to get better.’ He goes ‘I got to get back to work.’”
That work eventually paid off, when Hulls went from a largely overlooked recruit to committing to IU and beyond. It wasn’t only his work ethic but also his resilience and toughness. During the last regular-season game of his senior season, Jordan took a charge, but got an elbow to the upper nose along with it. Blood gushed out. This was during Bloomington South’s undefeated season. In the locker room, the trainer told J.C. that Jordan had a deviated septum. But Jordan went back into the game and played with cotton stuffed in his nose. Bloomington South won the game.
Later, an ear, nose and throat specialist said that Jordan needed surgery. If they did the surgery then, Jordan wouldn’t be able to play in the state tournament. But Jordan could keep playing and put off the surgery, given that no more damage could be done to it. So Jordan played in the state tournament. Bloomington South won the Class 4A state title, finishing with a 26-0 record. Jordan was named both Indiana Mr. Basketball and the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009.
“He (Jordan) was not gonna let anything like that get in the way of his dream of winning a state championship,” said J.R. Holmes, Bloomington South head basketball coach. “… He wanted to finish the deal and I don’t think anything other than maybe a leg in the cast or something would’ve kept him out.”
Jordan talked about the opportunity with his wife and his family. He did research and talked to the coaches. Returning to IU meant reuniting with the place where he played college basketball.
Jordan played at IU for four seasons (2009-13), where he was a sniper from deep, a career 44.1 percent 3-point shooter. The Hoosiers endured struggles in Hulls’ first two seasons. But his final two campaigns helped put life back into a program that had largely been treading water. The Hoosiers went to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens (2012 and 2013). During the 2012-13 season, Jordan’s senior year, IU won the outright Big Ten regular-season title. Over the course of his IU career, Jordan averaged 9.8 points per game.
“I learned a lot from those two difficult years that eventually led us to two Sweet Sixteens,” Hulls said. “So taking from my experiences playing here but also my nine-year pro career, just trying to relate that best way I can to these kids.”
Hulls and his wife, Aubrey, have three kids. Two sons, Jackson and Leo. A daughter named Margaret Louise. Now that his professional basketball career is over, Jordan, Aubrey and their kids all can see their other family members more often. Being back also means that Jordan also has the ability to help influence the direction of the IU program.
“Obviously, being born in Bloomington, watching Indiana basketball my whole life and playing here, you know, my thing is just trying to relate to these guys and get to know them,” Hulls said. “… How I can help them in any way, shape or form and for me it’s kind of just instilling, like, this place, when this gets going, it gets going. There’s really no place you’d rather be playing basketball, and just trying to instill that.”
Last Saturday, Simpson saw Hulls for the first time in a while.
“I kind of laughed with him,” Simpson said. “I said ‘you got a coaching glow amongst you now.’ I said ‘it looks like you’re happy to be home.’ And he had the biggest smile on his face… I could tell that he was happy to be back.”
Filed to: Jordan Hulls