Kris Jenkins had time to reflect as he caught the ball alone on the left wing. He set his feet and squared his shoulders. After what seemed like several seconds, fourth-ranked Gonzaga’s burly junior forward jumped and released the shot.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Jenkins has worked hard over the past year to hone his game and enhance his profile to college coaches. He can use his size to bully high school opponents in the paint, but Jenkins knows an ability to shoot from the outside will be a key asset as schools weigh whether to extend a scholarship offer.
So when the ball swished through the basket, it accomplished more than one thing. It extended Gonzaga’s lead to 13 points midway through the fourth quarter and showed that Jenkins continues to make progress with his individual skills.
Jenkins scored 16 of his game-high 22 points after halftime as the visiting Eagles pulled away for a 50-36 victory over ninth-ranked O’Connell before an overflow crowd of 1,200 in Arlington on Thursday night.
“It is a big thing for me to prove I can play on the wing but also show I can dominate in the low post,” said Jenkins, who averages 16.7 points and nearly one three-pointer per game and has several scholarship offers already. “I want to build on that and become a better perimeter player.”
Senior center Will Rassman, a Loyola recruit, also has had something to prove this season. Moving into the starting lineup, he has provided a key inside presence along with Jenkins and had eight points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three steals on Thursday.
Defensively, Gonzaga (11-0, 3-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) allowed just two second-chance points and held O’Connell without a field goal for nine minutes in the second half. The Knights (9-5, 4-2) had led, 24-19, at halftime but lost their fourth in a row.
Jenkins led the Eagles’ rally. He has redefined his physique, shedding 20 pounds since August. He suffered a high sprain of his right ankle during the playoffs last season and it did not fully heal until after the summer travel team season.
In addition to running and lifting weights, Jenkins said he altered his diet, occasionally eating salads — “I’m not really a salad person but I’ll eat it if I have to,” he said — and drinking fruit smoothies and water. His mother, Felicia, also made him eat liver.
“It was the nastiest thing, but I was forced to do it,” Jenkins said. “She felt it was healthy for me and I needed to change the way I was eating.”
Sophomore guard Melo Trimble led O’Connell with 16 points.