July 21, 2014
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, tracks the progress of sophomore forward Kris Jenkins.
Not long after arriving at Villanova, Kris Jenkins was asked to describe his game for those who might not have seen him perform as a standout at Washington, D.C.'s Gonzaga High School. He smiled and offered that his was "an old man's" game.
It was a clever take on what is very much a throwback style, grounded in fundamentals, smarts and skill rather than throw-down dunks filed to You Tube. The offensive tools and on-court savvy helped earn the 6-6 forward Prep Player of the Year honors as a senior and attracted the notice of top shelf college programs.
That capacity for craftsmanship required a level of patience born of years of sound basketball teachings that were first offered by his parents, Kelvin, a former player, and Felicia, another ex-player who later became a college coach. Jenkins' journey had been one of persistence and commitment.
So it was that he could appreciate that his early transition to the college level would require more of the same. And while it sometimes offered uneven terrain early in the process, the net result was most encouraging. Jenkins emerged as a reliable reserve and genuine deep shooting threat on the 2013 BIG EAST regular season championship unit and now stands poised for more responsibility as the Wildcats point towards 2014-15.
It's only been 12 months but the difference between July 2013 and July 2014 is stark for Kris Jenkins.
"The attitude you have for this summer is definitely different from the attitude you have when you come in as a freshman," states Jenkins, who spent his formative years in South Carolina. "Now, you know the ins and outs of what we do here."
In the Davis Center that translates to doing things hard and together.
"The biggest adjustment for me was the intensity with which everything is done," explains Jenkins, who averaged 8.0 points and 2.6 rebounds per game over the Wildcats' final five outings in '13-14, which included an 11 point outburst in an NCAA Tournament victory over Milwaukee in Buffalo, N.Y.
"Now, coming in as a rising sophomore, you have the mindset of understanding what it takes."
The first order of business for most incoming freshmen occurs in the weight room where they are introduced to an individual plan designed to increase strength and endurance. In Jenkins' case, that meant dropping weight and the forward is now a chiseled 240 pounds, down from the 270 plus he originally checked in with after coming to college. It was a methodical process, achieved with the assistance of strength coach John Shackleton, that has Jenkins prepared to do more as a sophomore.
"I had to lose so much weight that I think it took a toll on me," says Jenkins. "Coach Shack helped me push through that and get over that hurdle. Now, this summer I'm working to build on what I've already done by working out with Coach Shack to just keep getting better. He's been great and that will continue to be a big part of what I do here."
Jenkins had a few highlight moments early in 2013-14, most notably with his 11 point effort in Villanova's 88-83 overtime victory over Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in November. But there were also nights when his minutes were limited. Yet his arc of improvement was steady and by the second half of the BIG EAST season, his contributions grew.
"It took me some time to adjust," states Jenkins, "because mentally I was still trying to play as a guy who was 275 instead of someone who was 235. Over the course of the season, though, I just kept getting better. The coaching staff and the players kept instilling confidence in me. It peaked for me at the right time."
While much is made of instant impact freshmen in the modern game the reality is that many more rookies follow Jenkins' Year One arc. Put simply, it takes time to absorb and incorporate all that is coming at newcomers, particularly in a system that places a priority on defensive responsibility.
"You see how physical and fast the game is at this level," states Jenkins. "If you have a great basketball IQ, that can help. But the biggest adjustments on defense are being able to guard guys bigger than you or smaller and quicker than you while doing it within the team concept."
This summer, Jenkins has looked the part with a confident demeanor that reflects a year's worth of experience. His role figures to grow with the departure of James Bell as he is on deck for plenty of action at the forward slots.
"I'm definitely excited for new challenges and responsibilities," he says. "I learned so much last year from James Bell, just sitting and talking to him. He was my roommate on the road and I learned a lot from him."
Like Jenkins, Bell persevered through a learning curve as an underclassman. Jenkins took notice of how diligence as a young player can offer rewards one, two or even three years down the road.
"To watch (Bell) have the kind of success he did was a blessing for me," stated Jenkins.
While Jenkins' own progress is visible in his re-shaped frame, what's less apparent is that its origins are rooted in daily dedication. The throwback style and pure shooting stroke that delivered him here have now been augmented by a thoroughly modern strength regimen that has prepared him to shoulder more heavy lifting for the 2014-15 Wildcats as they enter the season with four starters and three key reserves back.
Old school meets new age.
It's a recipe that has served others well before him at Villanova. Now it appears poised to do the same for a basketball craftsman whose tools are rooted in his game's most essential fundamentals.