Nevada forward Jordan Caroline wants another taste of the NCAA tournament. Caroline announced his return to the Wolf Pack for his senior season on May 26, pulling his name out of the 2018 NBA Draft after a pre-draft workout with the Los Angeles Lakers on May 21.
Future career aspirations aside, Caroline is rested and prepared for another shot on college basketball’s grandest stage.
“I’m excited, getting to the dance is never an easy thing and that’s one goal we accomplished,” he said. “Now that we’ve been there we want to improve upon last season and we can’t overlook anyone.”
Caroline was a major component of Nevada’s second NCAA tournament appearance in 10 years. The 6’7” wing averaged 17.7 points and led the team with 8.7 rebounds per game. Caroline was a primary facilitator offensively as well, he was ran through the high-post in several half-court sets.
Caroline couldn’t care less about his impressive stats as long as the outcome of the game ends in the Wolf Pack’s favor.
“Winning takes care of everything for me,” he said. “I don’t pay too close attention to what my numbers are as long as we come away with the win by the end of it, that’s all that matters to me.”
Despite his size, Caroline’s defensive versatility was on full display last season. He showcased his athleticism to defend shooting guards out on the perimeter and used his size and strength to battle for rebounds and second-chance opportunities down low with centers and forwards.
The athletic bloodlines run deep in the Caroline family tree. Jordan is directly related to two Illinois football legends. His father, Simeon Rice, was an All-American defensive end for the University of Illinois and accumulated 122 sacks over his 12-year NFL career. He also won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003.
Caroline’s grandfather, J.C. Caroline, was a College Football Hall of Fame running back for Illinois. He led the nation in rushing in 1953 and played 10 seasons as a defensive back with the Chicago Bears from 1956-65.
Born and raised in Champaign, Illinois, Jordan Caroline credits his blue-collar mentality on the court to both of them, especially his grandfather.
“I just try to use the same mindset my grandpa had during his playing days and go hard every single day,” he said. “It’s a physical game and I try to make my presence felt every time I step out on the court.”
Caroline played football and basketball growing up, but he never felt the pressure of putting on a helmet and shoulder pads full-time to please his elders. Instead, Caroline focused more time in the gym than out on the field.
“They didn’t really care which sport I played,” he said. “Both of them just loved watching me play growing up so there was never really any added pressure to play one or the other and that helped me improve as a player.”
Caroline played his first two high school seasons at Champaign Central, but he earned a couple of pieces of hardware playing with NBA star Ben Simmons and Brooklyn Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell at Montverde Academy in Florida for his last two. The trio won back-to-back national titles in 2012 and 2013.
During that time, Caroline received offers from Cincinnati and Xavier, but not the University of Illinois. He chose not to play at either and instead stayed instate to play at Southern Illinois. He decided to transfer to Nevada after one season at Southern Illinois. Although he never received a scholarship offer from his hometown school, Caroline has found a new home in the Biggest Little City.
“It’s a lot of fun playing here,” he said. “Coach Musselman and the rest of the guys here have built a great program and I’m ready to give it all I have for them.”
Caroline is off to a scorching start this season. He’s averaging a double-double with 18.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Caroline’s game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-61 victory over USC marked his sixth double-double of the season and 33rd of his career, placing him fourth all-time in school history.
Caroline and the Nevada Wolf Pack will look to make three-straight appearances in the NCAA tournament.
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.