MISSOULA – Life can change in an instant.
Nobody understands that quite like Jordan Sullivan, who, at 25 years old, has already experienced changes befitting a lifetime. But those detours, diversions and discarded plans have led her straight to here.
Sullivan’s passion and commitment – to her craft, but more importantly her relationships – have brought the former Sidney High School and Montana Lady Griz basketball star home.
“Having that community feel rooted inside of me, it carries me, it goes with me wherever I go,” Sullivan said. “That’s why I think I’m so eager to, I get so committed to everybody and everything that I’m doing. I just fall in love with whatever I’m doing.”
Sullivan has had life’s most important constants. The relationships with her family, friends and teammates have molded Sullivan into the person she is today, even if she jokes that her family wasn’t much help in her making one of the biggest decisions of her life.
But it’s the other constant – the one that has led Sullivan from small-town Montana to starring on the hardwood in the Big Sky Conference to playing professional basketball in Denmark, Luxembourg and China – that brought Sullivan back to the Lady Griz basketball program.
Sullivan commits herself entirely to her endeavors; her dedication can never be questioned, but Sullivan knows she loves basketball.
“If I know how much I love something, why would I risk giving up this opportunity that’s so rare anyway?” Sullivan rhetorically asked.
That opportunity presented itself on Sept. 15. Shannon Schweyen, who had just taken over the reins of the Lady Griz after Robin Selvig retired after 38 years, offered Sullivan a job on her coaching staff as the director of basketball administration.
It’s essentially a non-coaching position with more behind-the-scenes responsibilities than actual on-court instructional opportunities. But it’s a foot in the door to an exclusive coaching fraternity.
So four days later, on Sept. 19, Sullivan agreed to join Schweyen’s staff, taking the open position created when Katie Baker, another former Lady Griz player, received an unexpected offer to join the coaching staff at Oregon State.
“Going to practice the first day – we’re allowed two hours of practice a week before the season starts – that was my first day on the job, we had morning practice,” Sullivan recalled. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m in here right now doing this. I’m going to get paid to do this.’ I am just fortunate, lucky. The timing of things, it just kind of falls into place. I think I’m lucky.”
But it was an agonizing decision for Sullivan.
She had just started law school at the university approximately three weeks before Schweyen contacted her. Sullivan was beginning the next phase of her life – the post-basketball phase after spending just less than two years playing professionally.
Sullivan helped guide Sidney to the Eastern A championship her senior year in 2010. The Eagles defeated Billings Central for the conference championship only to lose to the Rams in the state championship.
After her standout high school career, Sullivan spent four years at Montana playing for Selvig, her uncle and one of the winningest college basketball coaches in the country. She played in 129 games, the second-most by a single player in program history, from 2010-14, and averaged 11.6 points and 7.8 rebounds as a senior.
“She always brought intensity,” Selvig said. “She’s someone that played hard for every minute of practices and games. She got better and better each year, and she ended up being a complete player. She became a better outside shooter throughout her career, so she could score inside and outside – awfully good player. Someone that brought it every day, really good defender, probably took as many charges as anybody I coached. She’s tough, worked hard at being a heck of a player.”
For her skill and commitment, Sullivan was afforded an opportunity of which most people can only dream. She graduated from Montana in 2014 and began playing professional basketball shortly after.
Sullivan spent one season playing in Denmark and part of a season in Luxembourg. She played in a tournament in China earlier this year, which will likely be her final games of competitive basketball.
Montana – the state, not the university – was calling.
“I think after being over there for the time I was,” Sullivan said, “I just realized how much I do love being in Montana.”
The state and small-town community of Sidney were tugging at Sullivan’s emotions. It’s a community that’s had as big of impact on Sullivan as anything else.
She laughs about the remoteness – it’s roughly an eight-hour drive from Missoula to Sidney – and its harsh winters. But she loves her hometown and the warm vulnerability it creates in its residents, which Sullivan believes helped her and the close-knit community navigate through tragic times.
During Sullivan’s sophomore year at UM in 2012, Sherry Arnold, a Sidney High School math teacher, was kidnapped and murdered.
Eighteen months later, Janae Moore, one of Sullivan’s high school friends and teammates, died in a single-car crash.
“Janae wanted to go to law school here, and I’ve thought about how cool it could be if we were in school together,” Sullivan said. “Every year school starts up, I just remember where I was and what I was doing when I get those calls. I think about – I was here when Sherry was killed. My little brother (Ryan) was a senior in high school and having to go out with his teammates and look for her body. That’s the kind of connections that you have. Who else can say that they would do that with their teammates or their classmates? So there’s always something that comes up that triggers a memory.”
Those tragedies are sewn into Sullivan’s emotional fabric. They serve as constant reminders to appreciate life’s opportunities, love the moment and cherish the memories – all messages she intends to impart on the Lady Griz now that she’s completed the transition from player to coach.
“We’re so blessed to be here,” she said.
Life can change in an instant.
But somehow, those detours, diversions and discarded plans have led Sullivan straight to here.