March 4, 2013
“I enjoy building things, and I like math. That’s my forte.”
--Army senior Jordan Springer
While he was talking about his love of engineering, both his major and post-graduation branch assignment, senior center Jordan Springer could just as easily been talking about his Army basketball career.
Just as he will one day use concrete and steel to build tangible structures, Springer has used strength, toughness and determination as the foundation of a four-year body of work that has helped the Black Knights to unprecedented success in his final season. Despite numerous injuries, including surgery on his left shoulder following his sophomore season and another surgery slated for his right shoulder at the end of this season, Springer has missed only one game in the last three seasons and has been in the starting lineup for 66 of the Black Knights’ last 88 outings. Springer has averaged at least 4.0 rebounds per game in each of the past two seasons and his 123 offensive rebounds over the past three campaigns is the most on the team.
“It’s tough and it hurts, but you have to play through it to help the team,” Springer says, putting words to an idea that he has demonstrated on the court numerous times.
One of those plays occurred in Army’s win over Holy Cross that clinched the Black Knights’ first winning season in Patriot League play and a home game in the upcoming conference tournament. While battling the Holy Cross front line that consists of three players that stand 6-8 or taller, the 6-6 Springer sublexed his shoulder on one end of the court, and rather than staying out of the play to nurse his injury, raced to the other end and pulled down a one-handed rebound to give Army another possession in what turned out to be a seven-point victory.
Fighting through adversity comes with the territory for the graduate of Butler High School in Charlotte. Just about every night, he is giving up at least two inches in the post, especially versus pivot-heavy Patriot League opponents. Bucknell center Mike Muscala was named the 2013 Patriot League Player of the Year, while American center Stephen Lumpkins and Holy Cross big man Dave Dudzinski both were named All-Patriot League. In six games against those three teams, the Black Knights scored four wins and limited that trio to just 37.8 percent shooting from the field. Even in a loss to the Bison, the Army post defense limited Muscala to only one basket in the post and just 12 points, nearly seven below his season average.
“I don’t mind playing against big guys. I don’t back down from anybody,” Springer says. “Playing against a guy like Muscala, I just try to rise to the challenge. I know he’s the best player in the league, but nobody is perfect. I try to do what I need to do to stop him – do my work early in the possession and keep him off the lane.”
Doing work is a common theme when discussing Springer’s career at West Point. Even before arriving on the banks of the Hudson, he showed an uncommon willingness to take the tougher road. While many players pursuing collegiate careers have their pro prospects near the top of the list when deciding on schools, Springer knew he’d have to put in the work in the classroom.
“The education drew me here,” he recalls. “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer, and this is one of the best engineering schools in the country. I figured that even if I was good enough to play overseas or somewhere after I was done at another school I probably wouldn’t play for that long, and I would need a good education to have a successful future.”
Springer’s work ethic and athleticism caught the eye of head coach Zach Spiker just before the start of the 2009-10 season. Slated for the B-Squad to start his plebe season, Springer was assigned to the varsity by Spiker after he was hired just two weeks before the start of practice that season.
“It was different. Nobody knew what to expect, who the coach was going to be or what our roles would be,” Springer remembers. “It worked out for the best. I think I got more of an opportunity my freshman year than maybe I otherwise would have.”
He took advantage of that opportunity, appearing in 18 games as a reserve to Chris Walker, one of several seniors who contributed to three straight Patriot League semifinal appearances. One of the more successful groups in recent Army history, the Class of 2010 also provided a blueprint for the success the Class of 2013 is currently experiencing.
“That year was good because we had that group to lean on,” Springer says. “They showed us the ropes and told us how to get through everything. It’s also helped us for this year because we saw where we went wrong. We could have made history that year too. We’ve seen where we went wrong and made those adjustments.”
Now that the tables are turned, and Springer is the one providing guidance, he has had to step out of his comfort zone. Not one to talk a lot on the court, Springer has developed not only as a player, but as a mentor.
“My biggest area of improvement is probably my leadership,” he says. “I talk a lot more than I used to. I don’t mind talking and getting on guys when we need to get everybody going. My attitude is always been to just keeping working hard whether you’re a starter or not. I‘ve tried to explain that to some of the young guys this year. If they get down, I tell them to just keep working hard. You’ll play if you give them (the coaches) a reason to play. Just keeping doing what you have to do.”
That business-like approach has produced tangible results. As the season has progressed, Springer and plebe Kevin Ferguson have taken the majority of minutes in the post. Ferguson has developed into one of the league’s best shot blockers who plays with an effort familiar to Army fans who have watched Springer’s career.
“We try to communicate as big men,” Springer says. “When I see something that Fergie can be doing better, I’ll let him know, or if he sees something that I can improve on, he tells me. We work with each other, and try to make each other the best we can. I can’t teach him how to block shots, though.”
While the first member of his family to pursue a military career, Springer is far from the first to demonstrate his basketball prowess. His father, Gary, was a standout player at Iona in the early 1980s. A Haggerty Award winner as the top player in the New York City metro area, Gary led the Gaels to three postseason appearances including the 1984 NCAA postseason. Unbeknownst to Jordan until his arrival at West Point, there was a common family bond just across the hall in the women’s basketball offices. Army head coach Dave Magarity was an assistant on the Iona staff during Gary’s career.
Often times with such a successful family member, youngsters can often choose to avoid a similar path. Jordan had no such qualms about giving the family game his full attention.
“My dad didn’t put any pressure on us,” Springer says. “I chose basketball. I could have played football, but I decided to stick with basketball. I just love the game.”