FARGO — Wherever there was a picture, and it wasn't taken when Jordan Aaberg was playing basketball, odds are a smile was included in the shot. That's how former North Dakota State coaches and teammates are remembering Aaberg on Wednesday.
The former prep star at Rothsay High School (Minn.) died unexpectedly at the age of 29 Tuesday night after collapsing at home.
"He was endeared by his teammates, the ultimate winner and team guy," said Bison head coach Dave Richman, who recruited Aaberg and was an NDSU assistant coach in his five-year career.
Aaberg was part of one of the biggest plays in Bison basketball history. He was on the floor and set a screen for Taylor Braun's three-point play that provided the winning margin in the 2014 Summit League title game against Purdue-Fort Wayne.
NDSU went on to upset Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament.
"When I think of Jordan playing basketball, I always remember he had great timing," said former teammate Dexter Werner. "He seemed to have a good game in big moments on the biggest stages. I always remember the games we needed him the most were the ones he stepped up and got things done."
Aaberg was one of six seniors that season along with Braun, Marshall Bjorklund, TrayVonn Wright, Mike Felt and Fred Newell. Werner, who played city league basketball with Aaberg in the past couple of years, was an understudy at the time.
I’m in complete shock, having trouble finding words say. No one will understand the brotherhood and bond at NDSU. Some of the best moments of our lives during those 4 years and kept our friendship to today. Will never forget you traveling down to my wedding. Rest easy big fella pic.twitter.com/SwuoydSJ4q
I’m in complete shock, having trouble finding words say. No one will understand the brotherhood and bond at NDSU. Some of the best moments of our lives during those 4 years and kept our friendship to today. Will never forget you traveling down to my wedding. Rest easy big fella pic.twitter.com/SwuoydSJ4q— Nate Zastrow (@nzastrow13) September 9, 2020
It was guys like the 6-foot-9 Aaberg, he said, who provided a "calming effect" with the stress younger players face on campus.
"I remember walking on campus and meeting the guys, you obviously knew it was Jordan because of how big he is; you see him lurching over to get through doors," Werner said. "A quiet dude. Super nice. He had that sheepish smile, there was always a smirk on his face no matter what was going on. I don't remember very many days when he was not in a good mood with a smile on his face."
Aaberg leaves behind his wife Courtney and 1-year-old daughter Delia.
Jordan overcame injuries in his college career sitting out the 2010-11 season with concussion issues. He played as a true freshman in 2009-10 seeing action in all 29 games and starting 16. He ranked eighth in the Summit League in blocked shots that season.
Aaberg stayed connected with the Bison program. He was at the Summit League tournament last March with some former teammates when NDSU defeated the University of North Dakota in the championship game.
"He was just the best," Richman said. "He made a bunch of sacrifices. His body was banged up. One year he dealt with concussions and multiple years he had a really bad back. ... I think you run the gamut of emotions where you're shocked, you're in disbelief, you're sad and then you turn to your instincts and your team was like a family and you support Jordan's family."
Aaberg was the class valedictorian who did it all at Rothsay. He was a member of the school's National Honor Society chapter, Knowledge Bowl, student council, band and choir. On the court, he averaged 25.0 points, 14.8 rebounds, 6.8 blocked shots and 4.0 assists per game his senior year and led Rothsay to it first Little Eight Conference championship in 13 years.
Rothsay basketball, on its Twitter account, said, "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Aaberg family. Not only a great basketball player but an outstanding person. Jordan will be missed by the Rothsay community, Rothsay Basketball Program, and all who were connected with him! RIP #40."
A Go Fund Me page at gofundme.com was set up to help the family with expenses and medical bills.