More than 20 years later, J.R. Koch still gets “goosies” when thinking back to his close encounter with “His Airness” at a summer basketball camp at Elmhurst College.


Koch, a former all-stater at Morton, was playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes at the time, when he got the opportunity of a lifetime to work in the Michael Jordan basketball camp.


The 6-foot-10 forward, now a real estate agent living in Peoria, had very accomplished careers at both Morton and Iowa. Koch has had his number retired at Morton, where he was a three-time Mid-Illini Conference pick and a McDonald’s All-American nominee his senior year.


At Iowa, Koch helped lead the Hawkeyes to three NCAA tournament appearances. He was a second-round draft pick of the New York Knicks in 1999, but ended up playing overseas in a seven-year pro career. He retired in 2005 because of injuries.


But all of those memories pale in comparison to what happened in a series of pick-up games at the 1997 summer camp prior to Jordan’s final season with the Bulls.


It all started when Koch and Iowa teammate Kent McCausland were looking for camps to play in to keep stay sharp during the off-season.


“One of our assistant coaches, Rich Walker, I think was on the staff with the head coach at Elmhurst College, where the Michael Jordan camps always took place near Chicago,” Koch said. “He had an in there, and he said he thought he had something for us. It was pretty awesome!”


Koch worked the Jordan camp in both 1996 and 1997, which would normally have been enough for a lifetime of memories.


But his experience at the camps became even more relevant recently because of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part documentary on ESPN about Jordan and the two threepeats by the Chicago Bulls — with emphasis on the 1997-98 season.


Just prior to that season, both Koch and McCausland found out first-hand what made Jordan the best player on any court.


“At the camps, one day he’d do questions and answers, and another day he’d play,” Koch said. “The kids would ask whether this guy or that guy would have beaten him.


“Michael never gave an inch. He was never going to say anybody was better than him. That’s the way Michael was wired, and that’s why he was who he was — the best.”


During the 1997 camp, word got out that Jordan was going to be playing in the scrimmages one night, and both Koch and McCausland were front and center.


“Everybody wanted to play against or with Michael,” Koch said. “So I told Kent, ‘Let’s go out there and be in the first game and be shirts.’ ”


They were on the court, ready to tip off — without Jordan in the packed gym — when the cheers began at the first MJ sighting.


“The place was electric,” Koch said. “All of a sudden, you look in the background, and you see Michael walking in. He comes out and says, ‘All right, one of you shirts has to get off the court!’ So one of the guys volunteers and just walks off the court. That was absolutely crazy to me!”


And when the first game started, Koch immediately got into the action.


“We go down the floor, and one of these other guys was trying to body-up Michael, and Michael gives him this forearm-elbow right in the chest,” he said. “He’s not going to play soft.


“He went right at this kid a couple of times, and the kid was doing a fairly decent job of keeping Michael in front. I was kind of hiding in the corner on the baseline, just trying to stay out of the way. Then Michael drove in and threw it behind his head to me in the short corner, and I went up and dunked! It was the beginning of an evening I’ll never forget!”


The shirts, won the opening game, and the camp director then wanted to get new players on the floor. But Jordan would have none of that. Koch said that the same four teammates played with him the rest of the night.


“We played, and played, and played,” Koch said. “I played really well that night. I still get goosebumps every time I think about it! It was like slo-mo, and it was phenomenal!”


The next day was autograph day, when the camp personnel and the participants could take one item for Jordan to sign and get authenticated.


Koch, however, took in three basketballs to get signed. He also put in a little extra work that day.


“Ed Janka, who was a big guy at Nike and one of Michael’s right-hand guys, asked me if I would help keep the kids under control,” Koch said. “I had to make sure they had their stuff out to keep the line moving at an orderly pace.”


After the process started, Koch had another “moment” with Jordan.


“Michael says, ‘Hey, Iowa! What’s up!’ ” Koch said. “And he says, ‘Hey, you know I can make a couple of calls and get you into UNC (North Carolina, Jordan’s alma mater). I know the coaches, and I can pull some strings!’


Koch’s reply? “I appreciate it, thanks. But I’m good.”


Koch’s experience with Jordan made watching “The Last Dance” with sons Connor, 14, and Sam, 10, even more special.


“I was interested in it because it’s basketball,” Koch said. “Both of my sons love basketball, but they don’t know Michael. So it was very fun for them to get to see how much of a killer instinct Michael had and how he played. I told them how he played in those pick-up games, and it’s kind of neat to let them see it for themselves.”


And now, maybe Koch’s sons can get “goosies” whenever they think about the night their dad was a teammate of Air Jordan.


Johnny Campos can be reached at 686-3214 or @jcampos@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @JohnnyCampos59.