Oct. 29, 2013
The Nova Notebook, by director of media relations Mike Sheridan, visits with one of the new Wildcats, freshman forward Kris Jenkins.
As a child, Kris Jenkins liked to play football for fun in his native South Carolina. He had the quickness and frame that might have opened up vistas in that sport if he had elected to pursue it.
That he chose another path was, in some ways, pre-ordained.
Kris Jenkins, you see, has basketball roots that run deep. Both of his parents, Felicia and Kelvin Jenkins, were accomplished players. His mother, Felicia, is the top women's assistant and recruiting coordinator at Jackson State University. As a player she was an all-conference selection at Clafin College before graduating in 1993.
"My first passion was football," explains Jenkins, now in his third month of his first full semester at Villanova. "My Mom and Dad introduced me to basketball. My Mom let me know that she played the sport and my Dad played the sport. She said that if you are going to play this, you are going to play it with passion and drive like we did.
"I took to it at an early age, kept on with it, and it got me here."
Jenkins emerged at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. as one of the region's top recruits and the Washington Post's choice as Metropolitan Player of the Year in 2012-13. (One of those he edged for the honor was current classmate Josh Hart, who played prep basketball at Sidwell Friends School). Now he is one of three new additions to a relatively young roster that hopes to build on a 20-14 campaign that vaulted Villanova back into the NCAA Tournament for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.
Those who have watched Jenkins on the court speak of his rare combination of power and grace. He figures to be among the sharpest shooting of Wildcats from beyond the 3-point arc despite possessing a powerful 6-6 frame and the athleticism to operate effectively on the interior. His is a rare package of strength and fluidity and he made a good first impression on the Nova Nation with 10 points in the Blue and White scrimmage held on Oct. 26 in the Pavilion.
Jenkins spent his formative years in South Carolina before moving to Maryland as a teen.
"It was all a blessing in disguise," says Jenkins, who lived with the Nate Britt family during his high school years in Maryland. "Moving to Maryland to live with the Britts was unexpected for me. My parents had talked with the Britt family for some time. They made the decision to send me up here.
"It was tough, being away from (my parents). But I had to keep my eyes on the prize. I had to stay focused. God blessed me with the opportunity that, if I worked hard, I would be able to set myself up."
Today Jenkins views the Britt family as an extension of his own.
"I love the Britts," he says. "They took me in as if I came from them. To be there with the Britts and learn from them each and every day was a blessing. Just to be there with them every day is something I wouldn't trade for the world."
College programs began taking notice as Jenkins established himself as a frontline player early in his career at Gonzaga. A handful of BIG EAST programs paid particularly close attention and Villanova was on that list. There were others too, including members of the ACC and Big Ten.
Jenkins is an affable sort who is quick to smile. The attention early in the process was flattering but as his senior season at Gonzaga approached, he concluded that the time to end the courting was at hand.
"Over time I knew where I wanted to go," he recalls. "I sat down with my family and talked to my Dad and to my Mom. I talked to the Britt family. I was ready."
In the end, he settled on Villanova in large part because he appreciated the family atmosphere, likening it to what he knew at Gonzaga.
With a clear mind, Jenkins enjoyed a memorable senior year at Gonzaga, highlighted by 30 wins and plenty of accolades. The forward averaged 18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals per outing and his name was included on ESPNU's Top 100.
"Gonzaga will always have a special place in my heart," stated Jenkins. "I became a much better man in high school and it better prepared me to come here to Villanova."
Jenkins announced his intention to attend Villanova in August 2012. At the time the Wildcats were also pursuing Hart, who was also making a name for himself in the District of Columbia region.
"I've know Josh for four or five years," notes Jenkins. "I recruited Josh after I committed. I just let him know that if we come here and work hard, listen and are open to growth we could do special things. A couple of weeks after I decided to come here, Josh made the same decision. I was proud to be a small part of that."
Having a pal in the same class is an added bonus and the pair have also bonded quickly with the third member of Villanova Basketball's freshman class, Darryl Reynolds.
"Having Josh here and then meeting Darryl has been great," says Jenkins. "Darryl is one of the best people I know. He's a great person, outgoing. He's one of my best friends as well. Being here with those two guys has made the transition that much easier because you have two guys going through the same process.
"We're all going to struggle together and we're all going to strive to be great together. Everybody on this team wants to be great so to come into that atmosphere is a lot of fun."
As for the basketball end of matters, Jenkins has distinguished himself as a pure shooter with range beyond the 3-point line. In that Blue and White scrimmage, he found a spot in the corner in transition and teammate Ryan Arcidiacono found him with a crisp pass. Each time, the shot was pure. Some of that deft touch and footwork can be traced to all the fundamental drills taught to him by his mother and father years ago.
Of course, there is more work to be done as the newcomer adapts to the speed and pace of the college game. Jenkins is absorbing all the nuances of rugged defense and rebounding that are part of Villanova's core values. He is helped in that regard by an exceptional feel for the game.
"I'm making progress," says Jenkins with a smile. "I'll be the first to tell you that coming out of high school my mentality was to outscore you. Coming here, they instill in you the values that we are going to play hard and defend. I'm a competitor. I'm going to compete and I'm going to defend."
Jenkins has come to appreciate the tone set by his older teammates.
"We're friends off the court but when we step into practice every day we know that we are going to compete hard and push one another to get better," he states. "At the end of the day, we love each other and are a family."
Jenkins' journey has brought him north to Villanova. At each stop he has impressed as an affable young man with some high-end basketball skills. He has done the same in his first months on campus and it won't be long before he gets to display them for an eager Nova Nation.