Friday, February 25, 2011

Jenkins not the only one savoring the last days of his Hofstra career

When Charles Jenkins reflects on his transcendent and record-setting career at Hofstra, he will of course recall becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer, the buzzer-beaters against William & Mary, all the comeback wins he helped engineer, the honor of becoming the first active athlete in Hofstra history to have his number retired and how he almost single-handedly turned a potentially disastrous senior season into a magical one in which he became a viral sensation as #CharlesJenkinsFacts took over the Internet.

But a player who is defined as much by his uncommon grace and maturity as his uncommon basketball talent will also smile at the transformation of a quiet kid in a tuxedo to the ebullient one with a closet full of suits, the satisfaction that came with sharing a remarkable career with anyone who wanted to be even a small part of it and the memory of warming his hands with hot dogs at a softball game.

Wait a minute: Hot dogs as mittens?

“The softball team, they had a game and they asked me and Greg if we wanted to work,” Jenkins said after practice and a series of phone interviews Monday afternoon.

“Cold,” Greg Washington said, dragging the word out for emphasis.

“It was the coldest day ever,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “We first got out there, we both only had on one shirt. The wind started to pick up. It was so cold that I asked ‘Can I run to my room?’ And I just remember running to my room, going into my drawer and just picking up so many goodies for me and Greg.

“And I remember us drinking hot chocolate and eating hot dogs. It was crazy. [There] was one point where we didn’t even eat the hot dogs. Our hands were so cold that we took the hotdog and the bun and we just held it to get through it.”

That Jenkins—already the most recognizable athlete on campus by the time he and Washington volunteered at the softball game at the end of their sophomore seasons—would enjoy freezing, quite literally, his buns off on a wintry spring day came as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time at all around him.

“I’ve said it whenever I’ve had the opportunity: I think he’s gotten more out of the college experience of any student-athlete I’ve ever seen,” Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes said. “From his playing career to his going to special events on campus to participating in student-athlete orientations to going to black-tie events to going to other sporting events for other teams—he has gotten everything you could get out of a college experience and he’s provided a great example not just for the other members of the basketball team but for all the student-athletes in other sports.”

The most remarkable thing about the most remarkable athletic career in Hofstra history is how close it came to never happening at all. Playing Division I basketball didn’t seem possible when Jenkins excelled for Springfield Gardens High School in the anonymity of the PSAL during his sophomore and junior season. Jenkins’ Dad, also named Charles, called former Flying Dutchman assistant David Duke to tell him about his son, but Duke didn’t initially follow up on the lead. Duke began recruiting Jenkins as a senior, though, and closed the deal for Hofstra shortly after Jenkins scored 34 points in a win over Catholic league power St. Raymond.

“Before we left I remember telling Charles, I said ‘Charles, if you go out and have a good game today, you’ll write your ticket to any college you want to go to,’” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “And sure enough, he scored 34 points that day. We went home that night, I said ‘Let’s go back out and watch the games.’ Walked through the door, college recruiters are everywhere. It was an amazing situation.”

It was quite a different situation three years earlier, when Jenkins, still reeling from the shooting death of his brother Kareem in 2000, was expelled from Holy Cross as a ninth-grader.

“He didn’t want to do anything,” said Jenkins’ mother, Patricia. “He just shut down. He didn’t care about his grades. He didn’t care about playing basketball. He didn’t care about any of that.”

“It was academics, it was behavior, it was detention—I was late to school, I didn’t follow the rules,” Jenkins said. “It was just a bad year. A very bad year for me.”

Jenkins said his turning point was two-fold. He saw the rest of his family finding a way to move on while still mourning and remembering Kareem and had a closed door talk with a teacher at Holy Cross who told him how she realized life had to go on after her brother died.

“I remember her just telling me ‘My brother passed away too, I didn’t want to do anything,’ just like I didn’t,” Jenkins said. “She had to learn that life goes on. She woke up and people were still waking up and going to work. The TVs were still on. Everyone had to go about their life. That was something that I had to do. I had to learn, taking what happened to my brother and learning from it.”

Once he returned to the classroom and the gym, he began displaying the personality that would draw people to him on and off the court. Jenkins—now wearing no. 22 in honor of Kareem’s age when he died—was by far the best player on the Springfield Gardens squad, especially as a junior and senior, but his father encouraged him to get everybody else involved. Jenkins averaged 14.5 points and 5.8 assists as a sophomore and an eye-popping 21.1 points and 7.2 assists as a senior.

“He played with guys who weren’t that good, that weren’t up to his talent level, and I always told him in order to make them better, you have to play with them,” the elder Jenkins said. “So he always went out to make guys around him better. He always passed the ball. He always shared the ball. That’s where it started.”

Every Friday night, meanwhile, the Jenkins shared their house with their son’s teammates. Patricia would cook fish and pasta, take comfort in being able to keep an eye on her son and his friends (“I didn’t have to worry about what they were doing, because I’m upstairs and they’re downstairs so I always knew where he was and what they were doing”) and marvel at how his peers gravitated towards Charles—how, as Tom Pecora put it during his final night as Hofstra coach March 24, he managed to fill up any room in which he entered.

“I always say to Charles ‘You just can’t be friends, you just have to get them and they cling,’” Patricia said with a smile.

“I was always the kid [who said] ‘Why don’t you guys come to my house?’” Jenkins said. “I just enjoy company. I enjoy nothing more than good company, I enjoy laughing and spending a lot of time with people. If you would go to my neighborhood, I was always the kid that invited everyone. They knew that they would just come over to Charles’ house and hang out with me.”

Upon arriving at Hofstra, though, Jenkins was—briefly at least—anything but the sociable center of attention. Because of Jenkins’ youth (he began classes in the summer of 2006 still six months shy of his 18th birthday), Pecora and his staff chose to redshirt him.

But he still had to get his picture taken for the media guide—typically not a big deal, but a bit of an awkward situation for Jenkins, whose only suit was the tuxedo he wore to his high school senior prom.

“So long ago, man,” Jenkins said. “I remember that day like it was yesterday. Funny story. That’s the suit I wore to my high school prom. One of the things they told you [was] ‘You’ve got to wear a suit.’ I only have a tux, I don’t have a suit, so I’m just going to wear the tux that I have from high school. I didn’t own any suits.

“It just shows how much I’ve grown. I have several suits in my closet. Shows how much I’ve grown, as a person and a player.”

The clothes aren’t the only thing unrecognizable nearly five years later. The Jenkins who was shy and reserved as the youngest player in the program—and who stood, stone-faced, gripping a basketball in front of the gazebo at the entrance to Hofstra Arena in his initial media guide photo—is long gone. The outgoing Jenkins surely would have emerged with time, but the scowl might still occasionally be in place if not for Nathaniel Lester’s advice.

“Let me tell you what’s crazy about this,” Jenkins said. “Nat always talked to me and Greg about smiling, [saying] we don’t smile enough. If you look at this picture [from the 2006-07 media guide], both of us aren’t smiling. Now, if you look at our media pictures, we’re both smiling. It definitely shows how much we’ve grown.”

Jenkins was named the Dutchmen’s captain as a sophomore and over the next two years established himself as the anchor of the program, finding a way to bond both with teammates older than him (Cornelius Vines, Miklos Szabo and Brad Kelleher are all three years older than Jenkins) and easing the transition for all the newcomers, whether they were hotly hyped like Chaz Williams or Mike Moore or role players such as Paul Bilbo and Matt Grogan.

Jenkins improved his already impressive game as well. He endured an epic shooting slump his sophomore year but was a more efficient player as a junior, when he shot 44.3 percent from the field, was the overwhelming choice as CAA player of the year and led the Dutchmen to 10 wins in their final 13 games following a 2-7 start in CAA play.

The one thing that eluded Jenkins in his first three seasons was a trip deep into the CAA Tournament, but last year’s fast finish seemed to set the Dutchmen up for a big 2010-11. Except, of course, the grand plan began falling apart when Pecora went to Fordham and Halil Kanacevic, one of two Dutchmen on the CAA’s All-Rookie team, announced his plans to transfer shortly thereafter.

Tim Welsh was arrested for drunken driving and “resigned” after less than a month on the job, at which point Williams, the other Hofstra player on the All-Rookie team, said he was leaving as well. While Jenkins admitted to being shaken by the seismic chain of events, and even occasionally wondering if he should finish his career at Hofstra, he set the tone for new coach Mo Cassara by refusing to harbor bitterness over last spring’s events.

“Having Charles has just been an incredible experience—an incredible experience,” Cassara said. “He’s helped me through this transition better than anybody probably ever could and he never panicked. He just kept working with me and working with our staff and believing in what we were doing and trusting [everyone]. That just speaks a lot about his personality and who he is.

“Charles never let anybody second-guess anything. He just helped move this thing forward.”

Asked Monday if he ever felt abandoned by those who left the program after last year, Jenkins responded with a quizzical glance that would be hard to fake. “Most definitely not,” he said. “Coach Pecora always told us that everyday he’s teaching us life lessons. I just [look at] it that he’s preparing us for what’s going to happen in the real world. We’re not always going to be under the same coach. We’re going to have to be able to learn and adjust to different situations and I think it was just another opportunity for him to teach us a lesson.

“It was tough, just because of what I was used to, but at the same time, it wasn’t anything personal. It was business. These people, they have families to support, they had to go to whatever it was to provide for their families. So I don’t treat them any differently. It was harsh accepting it, but that’s life.”

Thanks to the presence of Jenkins—who was one of only two players, along with Washington, to have even started a game at Hofstra before this season—the Dutchmen were picked to finish fifth in the CAA. But Jenkins’ ability to bring his game to a level few if any players at Hofstra have ever matched has lifted the Dutchmen higher than anyone expected. With a win against Delaware Saturday, the Dutchmen will finish no worse than third, tying the program’s best CAA finish ever, and a Hofstra win plus an Old Dominion loss will allow the Dutchmen to finish second.

Jenkins is sixth in the country in scoring with 23.3 points per game but is more efficient (he’s shooting 53.2 percent and averaging just 14.5 shots per game) than anyone in the top 15 nationwide. He also leads the CAA in assists (4.8 per game) and has either scored or received the assist on 46.6 percent of the Dutchmen’s points—just shy of Speedy Claxton’s totals in 1999-2000 (46.7 percent).

He has been particularly ruthless in the second half and overtime, periods in which he is averaging 14 points and shooting almost 60 percent from the floor. Jenkins has been the difference for a team that is 19-10 but has outscored its opposition by just 15 points, is 8-3 in games decided by six points or less and has won seven games in which it trailed by double digits.

Along the way, a player who enjoys seeing other find happiness on the court has managed to pull together an entire campus and community. Jenkins’ ability in the clutch turned him into an Internet folk hero of sorts with the “Charles Jenkins Facts,” a Facebook page which now has 241 members.

Jenkins expanded his social media empire in the unforgettable game against William & Mary 10 days ago, when he became an immediate YouTube superstar by draining the game-tying 3-pointer with four seconds left in regulation before he hit a running 35-footer to win it at the overtime buzzer.

“I felt it was going to happen sooner or later,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said with a laugh.

“The best part of that moment for me was before he hit the first three to bring it to overtime—you watched the people who, to me, pretty much gave up to the point where you see them start leaving,” Patricia Jenkins said. “But when he hit that basket, they all lined up right here [motions behind their seats] to [say] ‘Wow, we have a chance’ and to see if they can find their seats back.”

Afterward, Jenkins came over to his family in Section 100, where his sister said their Dad had been moved to tears by Jenkins’ feats. The senior Jenkins insisted he hadn’t cried, but there certainly seemed to be two sets of glistening cheeks as father and son shared a warm embrace.

“They said my Dad was a little shaken up—he’s one guy that you never really see show emotion,” Jenkins said. “My grandma passed away, he played solitaire for the entire day. He didn’t really show much emotion, he kind of hid it. For me to hear that my Dad was a little shaken up about it definitely means a lot to me.”

Jenkins was moved as well by the reaction of his teammates (“they were storming the court, it felt like we won the championship or something”) and the 2,378 people at Hofstra Arena. “Just to see people slapping hands and hugging and cheering and screaming—it was a great feeling just knowing that these people are here to support us,” Jenkins said.

Such sentiments are an extension of his philosophy on the court, where Jenkins is happiest when everyone is involved and feeling invested in the Dutchmen’s success.

“I think there’s no better feeling than enjoying something with someone else,” Jenkins said. “I’ve done a lot of great things in my career, but it’s always nice to share a moment with my teammates. One of the things that me and Nat used to say to each other when we were freshmen was ‘if you have it, I have it.’ It’s just a feeling that you have to be happy with someone.

“If you’re happy alone, something’s wrong with you. You have an opportunity to make others around you more comfortable and make things better, I’m all for it.”

Jenkins will walk out with his parents and sister in front of more than 5,000 happy—if teary-eyed—people tomorrow afternoon, displaying that familiar room-filling smile as a kaleidoscope of memories flash through his mind and his number 22 takes its place in the rafters alongside Speedy Claxton’s.

In one way, it feels as if the time is right for Jenkins to move on, because, as his Dad says, he has wrung his scholarship completely dry. “I’m looking forward to Senior Day,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “I don’t want it to end, but I’m looking forward to that day. It’s nice when you finish and you accomplish something and you get to get praise for it.”

Jenkins said he wants to be remembered as “…the kid that took advantage of every opportunity he had. I didn’t hold back. I’m definitely not going to leave here with any type of regret. I know that I lived my college career to the fullest.”

Still, though, even after the longest (Jenkins will break the school record for games played tomorrow) and most decorated career in Flying Dutchmen history, Jenkins and his entire Hofstra family are hoping to savor those last few crystals in the hourglass. Jenkins’ NBA stock has risen dramatically this year, and he could solidify his first-round pick status with impressive performances at the pre-Draft workouts, but he’s not focusing on the pros quite yet.

“As long as I’m wearing a Hofstra jersey, that’s all I’m worried about,” Jenkins said. “We have a tremendous opportunity to make some more noise this year. So when the time comes, when the time is right then I’ll go about doing that the right way as far as preparing. But for now, it’s just all about Hofstra.”

As for his parents, they wonder just where the last five years went.

“Too fast,” Patricia Jenkins said. “Too fast.”

“It just flew by, it really has,” Charles Jenkins Sr. said. “I actually wish he had one more year.”

Who doesn’t?

Email Jerry at or follow Defiantly Dutch at

No comments: