Each night at 7 o’clock, there are 100 mini dribblers on AAU coach Vin Pastore’s computer screen, broadcasting from their respective driveways, garages, and basements.
One hundred athletes of various ages and experience levels are pictured in these digital squares, mimicking each other’s dribbles during a virtual workout. In a society doing its best to self-quarantine, a Zoom meeting is the closest thing to a competitive environment the Mass Rivals program could create.
“We do the best we can to not sit on the couch all day,” Pastore said, “because that clearly won’t work.”
These are less-than-ideal circumstances to teach basketball skills. But this is a time when motivated people will shine brightest. Like the 18-year-old in one of Pastore’s digital boxes, a 6-foot-6 wing from Newark, N.J., dribbling in front of the bench press and dehumidifier in his parents’ basement. Jordan Geronimo, about to break a sweat in his long-sleeved hoodie, is the personification of exponential growth, an unheralded recruit who exploded on the AAU circuit in the spring of his junior year, committing to Indiana in September.
Just this past week, Geronimo was named New Hampshire’s Gatorade Player of the Year. He holds nearly a 4.0 grade point average at St. Paul’s, one of the most academically rigorous boarding schools in New England.
“He’s been a buzzword up here because of what happened to him. Because he went from unknown to ‘the guy,’ as we say,” Pastore said. “And he just fits the mold perfectly. He’s a good-looking kid. He has a great smile. Everything about him fits, you know? It’s almost too good to be true.”
He just averaged 18 points and nine rebounds a game as a senior, edging out the likes of Kentucky recruit Terrence Clarke for state player of the year. But he’s back in his parents’ basement in Newark, squatted in a stance, hips moving from side to side as his right hand dribbles a basketball, inside and out. As the ball hits the floor with a consistent tempo — bop-bop-bop — there is no letup. He’s chasing, as Pastore would say, like a high school freshman who just figured out how high his ceiling truly is.
For a prototypical 3-and-D prospect with a 7-foot wingspan, enviable hops, and a sound stroke, his potential lies beyond the rafters at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. And in a few short months, he’s scheduled to become Archie Miller’s pet project. If his growth curve continues at its current rate, he’ll move from a box on Pastore’s computer screen to national television, swatting shots and swishing corner 3s for the Hoosiers.
Geronimo’s mentors can only dream of what he may become. It was only last spring Pastore offered him a chance to play on the wing full-time. It was only this season opposing teams focused all of their energies on stopping him, but Geronimo seamlessly adjusted. Now it’s time for a too-good-to-be-true prospect to start believing his own hype, but he’s too affable and down-to-earth to be cocky.
“I don’t think I’m good, to be honest,” Geronimo said, laughing. “I think I’m OK. I don’t think I’m amazing. I can be amazing. But that’s what I’m working for. It’s something I keep in the back of my head. I can always be better. There is always room for improvement. So I don’t gas myself up.”
He just keeps working, dribbling a basketball for everyone in that Zoom meeting to see.
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Talking to him, it’s apparent Jordan Geronimo is like most 18-year-olds. He likes to play video games with his older brother, including NBA 2K and UFC. He likes to “bother” his mom sometimes, perhaps telling her there is a spider on her shoulder — when there isn’t — just to freak her out.
He tries to eat right and get enough sleep because it’s the right thing to do. He tries. But then there’s Netflix.
“Sometimes All-American be getting spicy, so I have to watch the next episode that night,” Geronimo said.
He’s just ordinary, somewhat goofy. But there’s a very serious drive in Geronimo, which not everyone has.
The interview for this story interrupted a Tuesday night YouTube-ing session of DeMar DeRozan highlights. Geronimo wasn’t studying the high-flying guard’s dunks but his midrange game, seeing if he could pick up on some moves. He’ll try them out on his court in the backyard — though he has to watch where he dribbles, because the basketball escapes him if it hits a crack in the concrete and takes an odd bounce.
Since he’s sheltering in place, there isn’t much else to do. But this is a habit of his, one or two hours a night devoted to watching the best, whether it be Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, or LeBron James, or a four-time NBA all-star like DeRozan. Then he tries to be a mimic.
Watching the greats reminds him of how far he has to go.
“It’s like, damn, you know? This all came from hard work and hours of putting the work in,” Geronimo said. “I kind of think about it and I’m like ‘I’m going to do something productive.’”
So he’s outside on his hoop. Or he’s down in the basement, connecting to Zoom for Pastore’s virtual workout.
None of Geronimo’s coaches worry about what he’ll make of downtime in quarantine. He’s at home with his mother, former North Carolina basketball great Dawn Royster Geronimo, and his father, Jose, himself a former basketball player in the Dominican Navy. They instilled a “yes sir, no sir” mentality in their youngest son. So much so, Pastore had to ask to be called “Vin” during his first workout with Geronimo, because he just wouldn’t stop calling him “sir.”
“This guy single-handedly changed my life,” Geronimo said. “I was just calling him sir. ‘No sir, yes sir. I’m sorry sir.’ I’m just trying to be respectful. But I guess he just wanted to be called Vin. So I was like, ‘OK, Vin.’”
His influences haven’t changed, and neither has he. There are his parents to keep him straight, as well as his sister, Emiliana, a member of the rowing team at Virginia. He’s had the same group of friends at St. Paul’s for years, dating back to when he was a 5-10 freshman, enrolled purely for academic reasons. He didn’t make varsity that year.
Max Gordon, St. Paul’s basketball coach, was an assistant in 2016. He recently had a conversation with his predecessor, just reminiscing about what they saw in Geronimo that year, given the wing’s now-rapid rise.
“He said, ‘Hey, did we miss on this kid in varsity tryouts freshman year?’ And I remember those tryouts clearly,” Gordon said. “And the answer is no.”
Gordon wasn’t unimpressed. At 5-10, Geronimo already had unusually long arms, so the lack of a hitch in his shot was encouraging. But he wasn’t cut out for varsity. His body was changing. His machinery wasn’t all the way synched up.
During sophomore year, Geronimo sprouted a couple of inches above 6-feet and emerged as a starter. By the end of that season, he was St. Paul’s best player. But the concept of striving for basketball greatness only started to really nest in Geronimo’s mind that summer.
At a Hoop Group Elite camp, a coach — whose name he can’t completely remember — fed him encouraging words.
“He told me ‘You are good. You have the athleticism. You have the package. You just have to keep working, I promise you,’” Geronimo recalled. “I was like ‘What is this guy talking about?’ You know what I mean? I didn’t really believe him. But it was something in the back of my mind that told me, ‘He might be right.’ So just keep working.”
Growing to 6-6 landed Geronimo in the post for St. Paul’s, where the junior’s height and wingspan best served the team. He may have been Gordon’s best player, but he had senior teammates to draw attention away.
It wasn’t until this season — after Pastore gave him a chance to grow on the wing and become a national name in AAU circles — that Geronimo became a focal point of prep opponents’ defensive plans. Geronimo learned that after a road win, walking by the home team’s locker room. Its door had a window, and his eyes glanced in.
“Written on a big board, it said ‘Stop No. 22,’ and it was circled,’ Geronimo said. “I was like ‘Oh, that’s me.’ … It made me feel kind of special, I’m not going to lie. But it just reminded me I have a target on my back, so I can’t stop putting my foot on the gas. I have to keep going.”
Such a dramatic rise could shoot some into the clouds, but Geronimo was properly grounded. There was Gordon, encouraging his newfound star to take 15 to 20 shots a game, rather than his naturally unselfish 10 to 12, because the team needed his playmaking. There was also Geronimo’s mother, Dawn, talking him down after a career-high game.
“I called my mom, I was like ‘Ma, I dropped 32’ … but the first thing she said was ‘Yeah, but you didn’t get rebounds,’ Geronimo said. “She was just flaming me. And I was like ‘Damn, I guess 32 wasn’t enough.’ She’s always there to put me in check. Even if I scored 100, it wouldn’t matter if I missed a box-out. That’s the stuff I love to hear from my mom, because that positive criticism helps me get better.”
Geronimo’s expectations for himself are high, too. Once or twice, Gordon saw his star miss a layup in practice and turn frustrated. Pulled aside afterward, he’d ask “How’d I miss that layup? I’m going to Indiana.” But Gordon quickly turned the conversation to the controllables — “What are you eating? Did you get enough sleep?” — reminders that mistakes happen but there are variables within reach.
Ninety-nine percent of the time, Geronimo balanced everything properly in his mind. Against some of the best in the state, including the super-skilled, 6-7 guard Clarke from Brewster Academy, Geronimo was a force on both ends. Against a disciplined squad like Phillips Exeter Academy, a program that regularly sends players to the Ivy League, Geronimo had only one turnover.
His on-court growth over the years has been something to behold, especially since his personality hasn’t changed with it. He’s extremely good-natured, shy at times, but he plays with a massive chip on his shoulder.
He will talk about putting people on “posters,” but not for the reason you’re thinking.
“Jordan, he knows the value of that poster dunk and that amazing block on his energy and the team’s energy,” Gordon said. “It’s not like he hunts those plays, but he takes advantage of those when he can and he loves the energy it produces. I think Assembly Hall will be a lot of fun for him, with a lot of fans in the stands.”
There is no telling how quickly Geronimo will be able to adapt to the Big Ten level. There is bound to be an adjustment period. But his coaches agree, IU fans will love what Geronimo is about.
He loves defense. He loves passing. He loves to work.
“He’ll rebound the basketball, he’ll run in transition, he’ll do a lot of things,” Pastore said. “The way he shoots, by the time he’s a sophomore at Indiana, he’s a real problem.”
His coaches are thinking years down the line, but Geronimo isn’t even worried about next week. He admits he hasn’t thought much about Bloomington yet. He’s more concerned about finishing his online school work with St. Paul’s, maintaining that stellar GPA. Then dribbling in the basement. Then it’s one or two hours on YouTube watching basketball icons. Then maybe an episode of All-American.
Sleep, wake up, repeat.
“I have nobody praising me. I have no one telling me ‘Jordan, you’re so good,’ this and that,” Geronimo said. “I gotta appreciate that, because it always keeps me in check.”
And with that, the growth curve points up.
“He’s like many of my freshmen in high school, excited to work and to get better,” Pastore said. “Then, of course, it levels off for people because a lot of them reach their goal and they don’t work as hard. He’s still like the kid that is chasing. We need to keep that as long as possible.”