MISSOULA — Look into Jordy Sullivan’s eyes after a game and you get an idea just how much she gives.
She pushes to the point of exhaustion, then pushes a little more. Long after the senior forward from Sidney has handed in her Montana women’s basketball uniform for the last time, her willingness to hit the floor and hustle until it hurts will be remembered.
“Nobody plays harder, and it’s every day in practice and every game,” said Robin Selvig, Jordy’s coach and uncle.
“She’s tough. Little injuries don’t seem to bother her. She’s just one of those kids, every play she plays it all on both ends of the floor. That’s what has made her a really, really good player.”
Sullivan has been in the starting lineup since the beginning of her sophomore season and hasn’t missed a game. Should Montana advance in its Big Sky Conference tourney opener against Montana State on Thursday, Jordy will set a new Lady Griz standard for most games played in a career (126).
But it goes way beyond just being out there. Sullivan, who has 914 career points and 734 career rebounds, has a knack for delivering when her team needs it most late in the season.
Last March she kick-started both of Montana’s Big Sky tourney wins in Missoula, exploding out of the chute with clutch 3-point shots. Late last week she was the catalyst in a pair of momentum-building home wins, piling up 43 points and 26 rebounds.
“Jordy is the rock on the team,” teammate Kellie Cole said. “No drama and anybody can go to her if they need help or if they want somebody to talk to.
“She just loves playing basketball. That’s a great quality about her. The way she always plays hard, she’s a good role model for all the younger girls.”
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Why is it, though, that Sullivan seems to play just a little harder than the rest? To answer that question, it’s best to first consult her mother, former Lady Griz Sandy (Selvig) Sullivan.
“Basketball hasn’t been part of her life, it has been her whole life,” Sandy said. “In Sidney we live right across the street from the gym and we would be there at 11:30 at night to shoot extra.
“Whatever time we could get her in, that’s just what she has done since fourth grade. I don’t mean to make it sound greater than it was, but that’s what she spends her time doing. It’s going to be so weird when it’s over. I would imagine she will coach or try to continue to play, but I just think the void … She can work but this has been her life for a long time.”
The finality of it all is creeping up on Jordy like a grizzly bear. She certainly has made the most of her final campaign as Montana’s most well-rounded player, averaging close to 12 points and eight rebounds a game. Now the emotions of a memorable journey are bubbling to the surface.
“It’s hard,” she said Saturday after playing what was probably her last game at Dahlberg Arena. “I just kept trying to tell myself, ‘There’s more games. There’s more games.’
“Whenever that last games comes, that’s going to be a hard one,” she added as tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m like taking this in. I don’t know, it means a lot.”
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You might say Jordy was especially brave as a girl. She would travel by herself to play on club basketball teams because it was too expensive for the whole family.
When she couldn’t get the girls to play, she would compete with the boys.
“One time she played with the Laurel boys’ team in a tournament here because they were short a player,” Sandy Sullivan recalled. “That was a high school team and she was a sophomore or junior.
“The boys weren’t terribly eager to be outdone. We still live in Redneck City a little bit when it comes to that. She didn’t think about it because she wanted to win.”
Beyond excelling in sports — she was also an accomplished swimmer as a kid — Jordy also happens to be a big sports fan. In the winter months it’s not unusual to find her at a local high school basketball game.
“You know she never forgets a name,” her mom said. “Kids used to ask her, even the high school kids, ‘Who started for that team in 1988?’ Just to kid her because she has a knack for names.
“One of the track coaches from Glendive told me once, ‘You know one thing about Jordy, first time you meet her, she’ll know your name the next time.’ She knows lineups ... I think it’s kind of an oddity.”
You might say Jordy is fanatical about Montana prep athletics.
“I listened to the Eagles boys’ game when I was back in Sidney,” she offered. “I look forward to Missoula games and I was hoping I’d be able to buzz over to Billings to watch (last month). I just love the game.”
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Jordy’s love affair with basketball and winning made her a natural fit for her uncle’s perennially powerful Lady Griz program. From the moment she arrived she has made a big impact, voted most improved player her freshman season and most inspirational her sophomore and junior seasons.
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“It’s a challenge at first to come into college and find your role,” she said. “I played point guard in high school. Rob (Selvig) recruited me as a 2, 3, and 4 and I’ve kind of been at the 4 my whole career, so it’s been an adjustment for me to learn how to play physical, learn how to play in the post.
“It was a whole new role to learn. That’s the hardest part of college is trying to see what you can do to help the team and then feel confident doing that. I’ve been a gym rat. In the summers I love it. I have teammates that like to get in there too so that’s what you do. I just think you can’t practice enough.”
A three-time all-Big Sky Conference academic selection, Jordy’s hunger for success goes deeper than most college players. In her case it isn’t just about personal gain, her teammates and her home state. It’s about family.
“I just think I want to do better because Rob’s my uncle,” she said. “I want to succeed more.
“It’s like you want to do well for your parents. It’s a little like that.”
Coach Selvig makes it a point to treat all his players the same. Certainly Jordy Sullivan and Carly Selvig, Robin’s other niece on the team, are not immune to a little tongue-lashing from the sidelines during games.
Coach Selvig does concede, however, that it’s a unique situation.
“It’s probably harder for her than me,” he said. “All the other kids on the team go through things with me because you criticize them, you praise them and all that stuff. For me I just treat them the same.
“It might come into play a little bit but when the ball goes up in a game or when we start practice, I really don’t think of that.”
Sandy Sullivan can tell you exactly what it means for her Jordy to play for her uncle.
“When things don’t go well it does sting a little worse,” Sandy said. “That might make you fight a little harder.
“I don’t know, all the girls do great. But it’s harder for Jordy to see Robin not do well because she thinks the world of him.”
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When it comes to Jordy’s legacy, it is the sound of her 6-foot-2 frame hitting the floor that will be remembered as much the impressive numbers. It happens relatively often and it has to hurt.
The payoff is that it has endeared her to all who care about Lady Griz basketball.
“The game is tough on bodies,” Sandy Sullivan said. “I remember a very long time ago the trainer saying to me, ‘When you’re about 40 you’re not going to be able to … you’re going to be sorry.
“That really was true. The girls do way better now with lifting and doing (training), but I bet when she’s a little older she will be a little slower getting up. I just think all of those girls will.”
Watching basketball as a child, Jordy was always drawn to the scrappy player who seemed to be working just a little harder. In her mind, it was proof positive of how much that person loved to play.
Now she’s conveying her passion for the game to younger generations through her actions.
“I think your body just kind of gets, I mean, that’s the way of the game here,” Jordy said. “College, that’s the way it goes. So if you want to play, you take it and get up and keep playing. If you want to sit out, then that’s what you’ll do.
“I just hate the feeling of leaving the court and thinking, ‘Gosh, I really could have done more.’ That’s the attitude I take. Some nights I feel like it shows more than others. I can always think of stuff I wish I would have done differently. But as far as playing hard, that’s kind of my core rule: You play as hard as you can because that’s the only way to play.”
Sullivan’s work ethic has helped her improve with each season, and she has definitely saved her best for last.
“She’s having a great senior year,” coach Selvig said. “She’s a tremendous offensive rebounder, she can pass, she’s become a good scorer. She’s just had an outstanding career.”
Someone with Jordy’s enthusiasm and passion – coach Selvig jokes he has to “kick her out” of the gym from time to time – will be hard to replace. It’s probably best not to think about it now, with Montana’s biggest game of the season coming up on Thursday.
“Every year has been tough,” Sullivan said of the Big Sky tourney. “I was just thinking of when I was a freshman and we came in (seeded) fourth and we ended up winning the tournament.
“I don’t remember a year where somebody dominated. It’s a free-for-all. Everyone has beaten everyone. That’s just how it is. We just need to show up and be ready to go.”
In Jordy’s case, that’s a given.