COLUMBIA — He's always been the biggest and strongest man on the floor.
Untouchable. A pillar that only falls on its own terms. He's always been that man, throughout an almost two-decade playing career in this town. Most local athletes don't stay in the spotlight for that long. They leave, because they want to or have to. He left but then he came back. He's received almost every major basketball award available to him. And now, at the onset of his adult life, even he knows his days are numbered.
Jordan Dressler left once. After a dominant career at Rock Bridge High School in which he was twice named first team all-state, Dressler accepted a scholarship to the University of Toledo in 2009 to play for head coach Gene Cross and assistant Bob Sundvold, who coached Dressler’s father at Missouri from 1979 to 1983.
“I thought I’d be a really good fit there,” Dressler said. “I wasn’t really just focused on going D-I. I know a lot of people are. They tunnel-vision on being a Division I player. I just wanted to go to the best place where I could be successful.”
In the beginning, Dressler got his chance. He saw good playing time and played well for a freshman. But forces beyond his control soon altered his career forever. Toledo spiraled downward to a 4-28 record, Cross resigned and Sundvold and the rest of the coaching staff were fired, too.
“He (Sundvold) was the real connection there,” Columbia College head coach Bob Burchard said. “He (Dressler) didn’t feel any real draw to stay there after that.”
Dressler felt like there was nothing left for him in Toledo. Basketball wasn’t the basketball he remembered, the game he used to play when he knew everyone in the crowd. So Dressler, ever the laid-back shoulder-shrugger, left. He went back to the place where he made a name for himself despite the shadow of his father’s legacy. The place with his mother and sisters. He had missed them. The place where nobody in the stands was a stranger. He went home.
“What I said to myself was, wherever I decide to play again, I want my family to be able to see me” he said.
Burchard and Dressler go way back. Burchard’s wife was Dressler’s Sunday School teacher at Missouri United Methodist Church when he was just 3 years old. Columbia College student assistant Mitch Gosney was in that class too. He remembers a young Dressler who was a lot like he is now: big, goofy and smart.
“He was never a really serious guy,” Gosney said laughing. “But the thing I remember most about Jordan when we were that young is the kid could read Bible verses with all these old words. He knew all the words. It was amazing. I couldn’t pronounce anything and he knew all these words. I was like, ‘Who are you?’"
When Dressler decided to transfer, his father called Burchard, and the player who would become the centerpiece of his undefeated, national-championship caliber program fell into his lap.
“We didn’t recruit him out of high school because we knew he was going Division I,” Burchard said. “Sometimes you just have to wait and see if something changes.”
The 6-foot-8 Dressler has blossomed under Burchard, starting 93 of 95 games over the past three seasons. His unique combination of size and skill have made him the most vital cog in the Cougars' machine on both sides of the floor and twice earned him American Midwest Conference Player of the Year honors.
Dressler can do it all. His superior post moves make him a constant scoring threat down low. He hits 3-pointers. He rebounds. He blocks shots. He takes charges. And he passes as much as he shoots.
“Jordan’s a big ol’ friendly person,” Cougars guard Chantel Stanciel said smiling. “He loves to share the ball. I don’t know if he’d rather score or get an assist."
“On offense, when you can play a guy of that size at so many different spots on the floor it makes you so versatile,” Burchard said. “He’s not just the ending spot of an offense, like so many big guys are.”
Both Burchard and Dressler attribute his all-around game to his roots.
“My dad always told me you need to do something that separates you from everybody else so that you can get noticed,” Dressler said. “If you’re just a one-dimensional player other teams can scout you and you are really easy to guard. He always challenged me to do the more difficult things.”
“He’s been so well schooled,” Burchard said. “His dad was a great player at MU. To find someone with that background, that foundation, is a real challenge.”
But Dressler’s days of carrying the Cougars are winding down. He is a senior. At most he has only six games left in his college basketball career, and that’s if Columbia College wins the NAIA National Championship. Which leaves Burchard with the tough task of having to replace him.
Burchard attended a local high school game last month with hopes of recruiting a post player. The kid was good, he said. He liked him. But as he walked out of the gym he said to himself: "He’s not Jordan."
What he meant is a player who controls a game with his skills and demands respect with his size. A player who doesn’t get caught up in flashy dunks, who stays humble and grounded.
And is what Burchard calls "a good person too."
"He’s a front-row sitter at church," Burchard said. "I really think our town appreciates students of that character. I’m not a front-row sitter. I’m back left."