While there is an increasing number of Australian's playing NCAA Division I basketball, there remain very few siblings playing concurrently. Senior power forward Cameron Bairstow of New Mexico has his sister Stephanie at Utah State, Hugh Greenwood was this season reunited with his sister Josie at New Mexico, while Sam Rowley was joined by younger brother Mike at Albany. Then there are also two 'towers' in the form of the Vandenberg siblings; Jordan at North Carolina State and Jacinta at Fresno State.
Damian Arsenis delivers the first instalment of a two-part feature interview series with Victorian siblings Jordan and Jacinta Vandenberg.
After attending the famed Australian Institute of Sport and representing Australia on the world stage at the 2008 Albert Schweitzer tournament, Jordan Vandenberg packed his bags and headed to the USA. With a promising mix of height and athleticism, the 7'1" center received numerous scholarship offers and elected to attend North Carolina State. Full of promise and potential, little did he know that injuries would hamper his progress and subsequently opportunities would be few and far between.
In what was an inauspicious start to his career, Vandenberg saw limited action over his first 4 years of college. He provided decent back-up in coming off the bench, and even managed to start a few games when opportunity presented. Arguably the biggest set-back came when after a promising start to his 3rd year, a devastating shoulder injury sustained after just 7 games would sideline the towering center for the rest of the season. Vandenberg was eventually granted a medical red-shirt, allowing him to return for 5 years of college.
Back bigger, stronger and better than ever, Vandenberg again stumbled with another injury and missed the opening 4 games of the 2013/14 season due to an ankle sprain. Upon his return, Vandenberg was injected into the starting center role and made it his own. The Wolfpack immediately went on a 7-game winning streak with their Aussie pivot patrolling the paint. Averaging 21 minutes per game in 2013/2014 (up from 11.9 minutes in 2011/12), he is an efficient scorer in the paint (68% FG) in providing just 4.3 points per game, while pulling down 4.6 rebounds and blocking 1.4 shots a contest. With a career-best 11 rebounds against Notre Dame, it was his 18-point performance against East Carolina that had people sit up and take notice as it also included an amazing 7 dunks!
With his size, athleticism and potential, a pro career beckons. However just where he will land following his graduation remains a mystery; something that only time will be able to tell.
The Pick and Roll’s exclusive interview with: Jordan Vandenberg
Damian: Standing at 7’1” are you the tallest member of the Vandenberg family?
Jordan: Yeah, I’m the tallest. My Dad is 6’10” and my Mum is 5’10” – so I guess I get my height from my Dad.
Damian: Being so tall, did you naturally gravitate to basketball as a kid? What prompted you to take up hoops in the first instance and where did you play as a junior?
Jordan: I started when I was 5 or 6 in little league and continued through all the way through to representative basketball which is similar to AAU hoops. I played at a number of representative clubs including Dandenong, Waverley and Sandringham.
Damian: I am aware that you received a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport. How did that come about and did you ever represent Australia on the world stage as a junior?
Jordan: I actually played for Australia at the Albert Schweitzer in 2007 in Germany alongside Brock Motum (Washington State / Virtus Bologna, Italy) and Matthew Dellavedova (Saint Mary’s / Cleveland, NBA). At the time of being offered the scholarship to the AIS, I was one of the best players in the country. They offered me to go to school there and I accepted it as it was a better situation that what I was currently living in.
Damian: Heading to US College is a big step for any Australian athlete, so what prompted you to do so and how did you come to land at North Carolina State?
Jordan: I was recruited by a bunch of schools but I chose North Carolina State as it was best fit for me and one of the more highly rated schools I visited. Came to the US because there is not really much progression back home in Australia, and the National Basketball League (NBL) isn’t really a stepping stone to go anywhere.
Vandenberg in action against Northwestern - Courtesy North Carolina State University
Damian: What influence did you have in your sister Jacinta taking up hoops, and also choosing to follow your path to US College?
Jordan: I don’t think it was me – I think it was probably more my older sister. My older sister played high school ball in Bellevue, Ohio and this played a part. My little sister likes to travel and get out as she is more adventurous, so that’s why she chose to play college basketball. So really, there was no influence from me.
Damian: As a 5th year senior, you appear to have experienced more than your fair share of injuries and setbacks since arriving at NC State, including red-shirting your junior year. Tell us about your injuries, how you dealt with them, on your way to becoming the starting center this year?
Jordan: I had a couple of ankle injuries, a couple of upper body injuries. We have good rehab staff here. I became starting center as all the other players left – I was the last player standing and earned the right to start!
Damian: You have been integral in patrolling the paint this year, and upon returning from a pre-season injury that saw you miss the first 4 games, your team went on a 7-game winning streak upon your return. That How’s life now as a fit and healthy starter on a team that has started conference lay solidly?
Jordan: It’s a lot better. We had a rough patch at the start of the season. It is fun now – I feel more comfortable. I feel more part of the team, especially given I’m playing more now.
Damian: Do you catch your sister’s games for Fresno State at all? How do you guys support each other given you play for difference schools in difference conferences?
Jordan: I don’t really follow her basketball wise. She calls me up and tells me how she plays as it is hard to find how she is going online. She follow my stats pretty well and normally we have a 20 minutes conversation after most games. We just talk about how we played, what we could have done better, and how we are going to play better the next game.
Damian: Was there ever any chance of Jacinta landing at NC State with you?
Jordan: No. She was not recruited.
Damian: Given that you are finishing up at college this year, where to next for Jordan Vandenberg?
Jordan: I have no idea! Hopefully a pro career somewhere, but if not I have no problem going into the business world with my degree in Business Administration - Human Resources. You know - hiring, firing and salaries…
Damian: Finally, a series on siblings would never be complete with one dishing out some dirt on the other! What can you share with us that we can publish that is likely to embarrass your sister?
Jordan: I was not around her for the last 5 years! She once ran into a couch and knocked out her front teeth! The tooth popped out and landed in one of my Dad’s friends hands while he was talking. That’s a true story!
Damian: Thanks for your time and good luck for the remainder of the season.
Check back next week for Part 2 featuring an interview with Jordan's sophomore sister Jacinta Vandenberg of Fresno State.