COLUMBIA, Mo. — Jordan Roundtree is all too familiar with being the underdog.
She spent much of her childhood as the new kid, moving to and from six different states in her 22 years. The Roundtree family crisscrossed the country — from Oklahoma to Wisconsin to Illinois to Florida to Missouri —when Jordan’s father, Bill, a Missouri basketball player from 1982-1986, took a new job.
“It made her very resilient,” Roundtree’s mother, Teana, said. “Our motto was always, ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’ It’s never easy, so you just have to make the best effort, make the most of it and just press on.”
Through all the moves, basketball was the thing that always was constant. Roundtree started playing organized basketball at a YMCA when she was 5, and her father coached her for a while when she started out.
Roundtree had to cling to the resilience she learned from moving during her early years at Mizzou. She collected her minutes coming off the bench, taking a backseat to other guards. Teana watched her daughter struggle, but she also saw her commit to improving. Being a part of the team she cheered for growing up mattered more than a starting spot.
Dream come true
Roundtree’s hard work was rewarded in December of her junior season, when coach Robin Pingeton put her in the starting five for the first time. She would stay there for the rest of the year.
“That was always her dream,” Teana said. “She always wanted to be a Missouri Tiger, and it came true. Every time I see her come out on the court, it just brings me so much joy. Even the times when she was just cheering her teammates on from the bench.”
Now in her senior year, Roundtree is the underdog again. In a season that Pingeton swore would not be a “rebuilding year,” the Tigers have found themselves struggling to fill the void left by star Sophie Cunningham. They’re undersized and relying on freshmen Aijha Blackwell and Hayley Frank, who, for all their skill and promise, still are new to the college game.
Each season Roundtree and her fellow seniors have spent in the black and gold seemed to get a little bit better. They went to three NCAA tournaments in three years. They cracked the Top 25 multiple times each season.
This year is different. Headed into its last home game, Missouri is 8-19 and in in 11th place in the Southeastern Conference, at 5-9.
“It’s easy to lead when you’re winning a lot of games, and it’s not always easy to lead when things are hard,” said Roundtree, who was a first-team All-Metro guard at Kirkwood High School. “There are tough conversations, and you have to do things and say things that people don’t like, and that’s the only way we’re going to get better.”
‘Fierce and graceful’
After one midweek practice, a tiny golden ballerina necklace hung around Roundtree’s neck and over the center of the tiger logo on her practice jersey. It’s a miniature of one of Edgar Degas’ famous “little dancers,” of which there are 28 in art museums around the world. It was a gift to Roundtree from a friend, meant to show that she was “both fierce and graceful.”
That’s how her mother thinks Roundtree plays. She can make half-court shots in the NCAA Tournament — like she did against Iowa last year — or she can put the ball in someone else’s hands. She can lead difficult conversations in the locker room, or she can cheer with the women on the bench, a place she visits less frequently this season: Roundtree’s 28.5 minutes per game are second on the team, while she’s averaged a career-best 6.6 points per game.
“When it comes to things that she really loves, like basketball, and things that she cares about, like this team, she has this energy,” Teana said. “She’s pretty reserved, and when you speak to her, she’s very thoughtful. But when she gets out on the court, she has a whole different personality. It’s so much fun to watch her joy and her passion.”
Pingeton insists that “absolutely anything can happen” in March, and Missouri could make a late-season run. But March always brings sentimentality and reflection for those in their final year as they think about life after basketball.
Roundtree, who finished her undergraduate degree in three years, will stay in Columbia for another year and a half while she finishes her master’s degree in business administration. She considers herself a “big city girl” and hopes to move somewhere like Chicago or New York and work in the financial sector.
But before she can leave basketball behind, she has a few more games to play, starting with Thursday’s home finale against Auburn (9-16, 3-11). Mizzou held its senior day ceremonies Sunday, against Mississippi. After the Tigers’ 82-67 win, Roundtree grabbed the public address announcer’s microphone and did what Pingeton is usually the one to do: She thanked the fans.
“The fact that they keep showing up regardless of if we win or lose, and the fact that they came out and supported the four of us seniors who’ve poured a lot into this program, it means so much to me,” she said. “This is why I do it. I absolutely love them. They make my experience what it’s been.”