One-on-one with Jordan Obi

The fourth-year forward discusses her love of basketball, building team chemistry, being a quiet leader, her most memorable game, and her most interesting class.

Jordan Obi sits on the court with her elbow rested on a basketball, wearing her red Penn jersey.

In his 15 years leading the women’s basketball team, Head Coach Mike McLaughlin says fourth-year forward Jordan Obi has matured more than any other player he has ever coached.

Obi’s first-year season in 2020-21 was canceled by the coronavirus. During her second-year season, McLaughlin says she played more of a passive role, watching and observing. But over the past two seasons, he says Obi has taken a giant leap forward, showing more leadership on and off the court, and mentoring and guiding the younger players.

“She now realizes that she’s the most experienced player on the floor, she’s the oldest player on the floor,” McLaughlin says. “She’s been in really good games and played in difficult environments. She’s taken the step in terms of trying to understand what it takes to get a team ready to play in our league.”

Obi, originally from Hartford, Connecticut and now residing in San Jose, California, is the second-leading scorer and leading rebounder on the 13-11 Quakers, averaging 14.9 points and 7.9 boards, respectively.

Jordan Obi poses with a ball on her right shoulder.

She ranks sixth in the conference in points per game, second in rebounds per game, second in blocks per game (1.3), and second in free throw percentage (.833).

In Penn’s 77-56 victory over Brown on Feb. 2, she scored her 1,000-career point in her 75th career game, becoming only the 25th player in school history to reach the milestone and the seventh fastest in program history.

This weekend, Obi will play her final two games at the Palestra, versus Dartmouth on Friday at 5 p.m. and Harvard on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Penn Today sat down with Obi, a communications major in the Annenberg School for Communication, at the Palestra to discuss her love of basketball, building team chemistry, taking on a larger team role, her most memorable game, and her most interesting class.

Jordan Obi pushes the ball down the court while guarded by a defender.
Image: Penn Athletics

What do you enjoy about the game of basketball? I like the team aspect. There are like 15 of us on the team so we’re all really close. And when it comes to being in the game, we all get happy and celebrate when making plays for one another or when someone does something positive on the floor. I like the closeness, the connectivity piece of it, and obviously the competition. But I think more than anything, I enjoy feeling like a unit on the floor going against another unit.

How do you go about building good team chemistry? We spend so much time together, and we have to spend so much time together, so it’s really about just getting to know who you’re with a lot of time. You have to be with them, you have to learn how to get along. I think learning about your teammates makes life easier and it makes playing with them more fun.

You have been playing basketball since the third grade. Have you always been a forward? Yes, I’ve always been a center or a forward. I’ve always been the biggest, tallest among my peers, so I always played that bigger position.

Jordan Obi lays the ball over the hands of two defenders.
Image: Penn Athletics

With the graduation of Kayla Padilla last year, you have had to take on a larger role this season. How did you prepare yourself? Was it more of a mindset change? I think it was more of a mindset thing. As far as training, my training didn’t change much. My position didn’t change, so training-wise, it was the same kind of things. I think it’s more a mindset change. Kayla was one of those players who you give her the ball and she’s going to make a play, for her or for somebody else. With her on the floor, I was never worried about us scoring because I knew she could make a play for herself, I knew she could make a play for me. This year, having less maturity on the floor, when I get the ball, I can’t be passive and looking for other players to make a play. I have to try to go make a play for myself.

You are a reserved person. Was it difficult to sort of come out of your shell, as they say, and take on more of a leadership role on the team? I think leadership looks different on different people. For example, [fourth-year guard Mandy McGurk) was really our vocal leader last year; Kayla was a leader obviously, but she wasn’t a vocal leader like Mandy. Her presence was her leadership. I think I’m kind of similar. I don’t try to be something that I’m not. I don’t scream, I don’t yell. I try to speak up when I see things and when I need to, but I think my leadership is more in how I carry myself and the things that I do.

Like Kawhi Leonard? Sure.

Jordan Obi shoots the ball while being guarded by two Villanova defenders.
Image: Penn Athletics

Coach McLaughlin mentioned how he has seen you mature over the last three years. To what do you credit your own personal growth over the last three years? I think just time. Coming in, I was super quiet—I still am—but I was super quiet, reserved. I think coming in, I took the school piece a little less seriously than I should have. I think when he talks about maturity, I think he’s talking about my outgoingness, my willingness to speak up, and then in the classroom, too, just getting it done. I think it’s really just time and age. Maturity comes with age.

Where do you think you have improved the most on the basketball court? My coaches tell me all the time that when I was a freshman, if I had a wide-open three, I wouldn’t shoot it. They told me that I didn’t like to shoot the ball. I think my first season, I was solely an interior player, and I think now I can play outside more than before, so I’ve grown in versatility. I think I’ve grown as a defender.

Do you have a most memorable game so far? It’s either when we beat Columbia here last year or our game against Temple last year. Columbia had just beat Princeton. We knew Columbia and Princeton were at the top of the league standings. Columbia had just beat Princeton the night before and then they came to us and we beat them by four. That was a really big one for us, a very memorable one. And then our game against Temple. That one was just a nail-biter. It was a good feeling to win at the end of that one.

Jordan Obi makes a move to the basketball with the ball while being guarded by a defender.
Image: Penn Athletics

What has been your most interesting class? Right now, I’m in this course called the Science of Well-Being. It’s about positive psychology and wellbeing, how to be happier and live a more fulfilling life. The field is called positive psychology and our professor, Martin Seligman, is the founder of the field. I think that’s the most engaged I’ve been in a class since I’ve been here because everyone wants to be happier.

You still have another year of eligibility, although you can’t play at Penn. Do you plan to use it? I haven’t decided. I want us to finish the season first and then I’ll make my decision after that. I feel like I go back and forth every day if I want to use it or just continue with my life.

At The Palestra, Jordan Obi poses at mid-court with the ball in her hands.