Wisconsin-Whitewater's Talen Jourdan Is 1 Great Player
When asked how long he’s been playing sports, Talen Jourdan laughs. “Well,” he said, “since I was pretty much out the womb, damn near.”
Jourdan, a Dean’s-List business major, age 22, is set to be one of the foundational pieces for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Warhawks this upcoming season, and he is ready.
Jourdan’s former coach, Jeremy “Opie” Lade, explained that with Jourdan’s experience — he will be the oldest player on the Warhawks — he now has an opportunity to “pay it forward and be a leader for the athletes coming up through the program.”
Jourdan is a uniquely athletic player. Listed as a “class one” player, he is an unusual shooting threat.
For Jourdan, labels don’t mean much. “The typical role of a class one is to pretty much just set picks and set seals. But that's something different about me. I don't really like to play that game as much. I like being more of a shooter. Just because that's what I grew up doing,” Jourdan said.
His experiences as an outside shooter and point guard when he played stand-up basketball have enabled him to develop a unique skillset — and it is something recognized by his coaches.
Jourdan is on the court for the entire game. Even as his Warhawks team runs a punishing fast break game plan, “I’m in every game for forty minutes,” he said.
The zeal that Jourdan has for basketball, and the drive that powers his competitiveness, are nothing new.
Jourdan grew up in the small towns of Fall River and Deerfield, Wisconsin, where competitive sports are a big deal. And from the start, he tried to keep up with his older brother, Tristen, now 23.
“Tristen was doing all sporting things at age three-and-a-half, four, so Talen would have been two-and-a-half, three years old while he was with him all the time,” recalls their dad, Todd.
Their mother Jennifer said that since the two boys were about the same size, Talen always wanted to keep up with Tristen. “Talen was always competitive with his older brother.”
By the time that Jourdan was in middle school, he was participating in half-a-dozen different sports. “Oh, sports mainly influenced my life, pretty much every day,” Jourdan remarked.
“I was point guard on the basketball team; I was quarterback on the football team; pitcher, shortstop and second base for baseball.”
Jourdan also ran track as a long-distance runner, was a regular wakesurfer, and immersed himself in winter sports. “He was out on top of the mountains in Colorado at age six snowboarding,” said his father.
Jourdan grew up surrounded by sports: Both of his parents were athletes, and Jourdan gives his father credit for coaching him, and putting up basketball nets, as he grew up.
Even in middle school, Jourdan had his eyes set on playing college sports: “I’ve always wanted to play after high school,” he said.
Yet, when Jourdan had his life-changing injury at the age of thirteen, he feared that all of his aspirations would be for naught.
“It was opening morning of deer hunting season when I was 13. I had grown up always hunting and stuff, but this was one of the first years of actually hunting by myself.”
Jourdan perched in a tree stand, about thirty-five feet up in the air, so he could have a better visual on the deer. He was soon overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness, and before he knew it, he woke up on the ground.
After his near three-story fall, Jourdan was eventually found by his brother in a hypothermic state, driven to flat ground via an all-terrain vehicle and airlifted to the American Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I almost died,” he said. “I ended up breaking my back at the T6/T7 vertebral level, broke my collar bone, collapsed a lung, fractured some vertebrae in my neck and broke a few ribs,” Jourdan explained.
Somehow, Jourdan describes his accident as “not super rough.”
After all, he says, “there have been people who were hit by cars and stuff, so I don’t like to compare myself to them.”
It took Jourdan about three months to recover from his injury. In that time, the tight-knit community of Deerfield, Wisconsin rallied around him.
While his parents were in the hospital caring for him every day, his neighbors cooked meals and took turns watching Tristen and Jourdan’s younger brother, Trey. “It takes a village to raise a child, and I definitely say that our little community, Deerfield, was right there to help out and more ways than one,” Jennifer Jourdan said.
After the accident, Jourdan worried that his athletic dreams would become just a memory: “Oh, it was definitely a gloomy period for me. I had no idea that wheelchair basketball was really a thing. And you know, giving up four sports like that, I was super let down. And I was like, ‘Wow, there's nothing really, you know, competitive for me anymore.’”
But for someone like Talen Jourdan, all it took was the discovery that there were wheelchair sports out there to reignite his competitive fire.
Opie Lade first introduced Jourdan to wheelchair basketball. A three-time Paralympian, Lade retired in 2020 as head coach of the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks – a legendary tenure in which he led the team to six national championships.
“I remember meeting Talen very early on, shortly after his accident, and trying to ultimately provide as much support as I possibly can to let him know, ‘Hey, things are going to be different, but that doesn't mean it's bad. You got a lot of opportunities ahead of yourself,’” Lade recalled. “I showed him [how to drive] a car, and it wasn't a lot of conversation about wheelchair basketball. It was more about some of the adaptations moving forward in life and a little side conversation about basketball being like, ‘Hey, if this is something that you want to continue to pursue, there are going to be some opportunities available.’”
Lade’s friendly support injected a sense of hope about the future. “I will never forget it,” Todd Jourdan said of the family’s initial conversations with the coach.
As Jourdan recovered, his parents’ support for his aspirations stayed strong.
“I was trying everything with him. We tried sled hockey and he had a bunch of his friends come try it with him,” Jennifer Jourdan said.
Wheelchair basketball soon became Jourdan’s passion, even if it took some time to get acclimated and learn a new set of skills.
“My mom ended up taking me to a practice in Madison with the Mad City Badgers. I was like ‘Wow, this is actually really fun.’" Jourdan said.
It took Jourdan several years to feel comfortable on the court. “The biggest difference was the whole new ‘dribble the ball and push two wheels at the same time,’ because that’s something I've never seen happen before,” he explained. Combined with building the muscles for shooting out of a chair, “it just took a lot of practice.”
Much like in his athletic career prior to his injury, Jourdan’s parents remain his biggest champions. He has also benefited from a close network of friends who have supported him along the way.
“I think about a year after he got hurt, I bought a bunch of sport chairs and his friends would come over and play wheelchair basketball,” Todd Jourdan recalled.
In fact, Jennifer Jourdan said that when one of Talen’s friends tore his meniscus, she encouraged him to participate and he joined the Mad City Badgers wheelchair basketball team for a whole year.
Talen Jourdan gives full credit to his parents for all of the support they’ve given him over the years. “I always like to tell them, and it is true, I do play this level of basketball partially for them too. Because I know what makes them happy.”
Today, Jourdan is long past the time when he was still figuring out the game. He is thriving on the court as a category one player, meaning that he is classified in the grouping with the highest level of disability. Listed one to five, each wheelchair basketball player has a categorization, and coaches must assemble a line-up that does not go over fourteen points.
“I think Talen’s a hybrid in terms of the ability — to be able to seal and to be able to be a solid defender. And then when the time presents itself, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball. He's a bit of a hybrid of a basketball player on the court,” said Opie Lade.
The Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks run various styles on the floor, transitioning between fast breaking and a slower pace when they have more sharpshooters on the court.
Since Jourdan does not play like a typical class one, he is invaluable to his team. His “one” enables coaches to use his teammates with higher levels of ability around him, while not sacrificing on shooting depth up and down the floor.
He plays the entire game, and clearly does so quite well: he was second team All-American this past season.
In addition to his Whitewater team, Jourdan also plays on the USA U23 national team. They are set to go to Thailand for the U23 World Championship this autumn.
Jourdan enjoys his U23 team in part because he gets a chance to be teammates with players who are normally his competitors on the college circuit.
“I like to joke around with them a lot during the [college] games, just to have fun with it. And you know, not all of them joke around back because they keep it like 100% serious, but I'm just like, ‘Hey, what's the fun of the game if you don't have fun?’” Jourdan remarked.
And just recently Talen received word that yet another team wants his services: Team USA. With this incredible and well-deserved honor, he'll be playing for the United States in the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) Americas Cup in Sao Paulo, Brazil this July.
Whether it’s wheelchair basketball, wakesurfing (Todd Jourdan thinks his son is the first person in the world to do adaptive wakesurfing behind a boat), riding his motorcycle, or hunting deer and pheasant, Jourdan is living life to the fullest on and off the court.
“He definitely leads by example,” notes Opie Lade. “You see him in the gym, you see him in the weight room.”
Current Whitewater Coach AJ Messmer wants to make sure that people know that Talen Jourdan is much deeper than just an athlete: “Basketball is not the one thing he is good at,” Messmer said. “He is great in class, and if someone wants something fixed on his chair, he’ll be the one to help.”
“The passion and the joy with which he lives life is awesome,” Opie Lade said. “As long as I've known Talen, he's smiling, and his smile is contagious.
Looking down the road, Jourdan hopes to one day play for a professional wheelchair basketball team in Europe, where he could make a living playing the sport he loves.
With four starters graduating this spring, Jourdan is ready to take on the mantle of being the eldest player on Whitewater's team next season. It is a leadership role he has been preparing for his entire life. “I’m going to have to take a step up,” Jourdan said.
He surely will. He's a great one. And he's on his way to being one of the greats.
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