An NCAA national title, a hero moment and the cover of Sports Illustrated can only do so much for a guy. It doesn’t guarantee an NBA career. So when Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, who was born in Upper Marlboro, arrived in Washington ahead of his first pre-draft workout, he eschewed too much nostalgia.
Jenkins said hello to Mom and Dad, but elected to stay overnight at a hotel and not back home. Then on Tuesday, after auditioning with the Washington Wizards, Jenkins didn’t take the bait to reminisce too much about his buzzer-beating three-pointer, known in college circles as “The Shot,” that sealed Villanova’s 77-74 win in the 2016 championship game.
Jenkins, a 6-foot-6 forward who can shoot, has read every draft projection he can find. Jenkins knows he has much to prove. When asked by a reporter about being a household name after his big shot last year, Jenkins shifted the happy memory to his current sobering reality.
“Yeah, well, last time I checked and looked, nobody had me getting drafted,” Jenkins said. “So that’s enough for me right there.”
As Jenkins tried to convince the Wizards’ front office to draft him at No. 52 on June 22, the setting for the six-man workout should’ve seemed very familiar. As a Gonzaga College High School standout, Jenkins played big tournament games at Verizon Center. Then through four years in the Big East Conference, Jenkins often returned home to face Georgetown. Like several other local players who have previously worked out with the Wizards (Melo Trimble, Daniel Dixon), Jenkins indicated that he grew up paying attention to the team. After receiving the workout invite, of course he had to tell several family members who are still located in Prince George’s County.
“My uncle is a huge Wizards fan,” Jenkins said. “So he was probably the most hype.
“It’s a blessing. You always root for the hometown team, you always want them to do well,” Jenkins said. “Honestly it’s humbling to be in this position, to grow up in this area, to have some games here and play college ball here and then come back and work out for the Wizards.”
Jenkins, hyper aware and honest about his situation: “Oh, I look at everything. I watch everything. Any athlete that tell you that they don’t, they lying just a little bit.”
Draft projections may have Jenkins outside of the top 60, but he believes teams can use a shooter like him. Though Jenkins’s form was immortalized on the cover of Sports Illustrated following the championship game, his four years at Villanova should prove ‘The Shot’ wasn’t a fluke.
“Everybody needs a shooter,” Jenkins said about the NBA. “So maybe [a team] will give me a look.”
During the portion in which media members watched the Tuesday session, Jenkins had hit-and-miss moments.
Jenkins teamed up with smallish guard Marcus Keene, who led the NCAA in scoring last year while playing for mid-major Central Michigan, and 7-1 Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski. During one play, Jenkins couldn’t connect on a spot-up three, then turned and slapped the blue padded wall, leaving a sweaty imprint of his right hand. Later, after scoring a bucket, Keene had to make a free throw; when the shot veered off the rim, he held his palms up as if to wonder ‘how did that happen?’ But with a smile on his face, Jenkins turned his attention to playing half-court defense.
“We competed and went hard,” Jenkins said after the workout. “This is my first one, so I’m just thankful and happy for the opportunity to start it off right and in the hometown.”
Besides Jenkins, Keene attracted a fair amount of attention. Last season as a 5-9 junior guard, Keene averaged 30 points per game. Just like Jenkins, Keene is fighting for NBA attention. He wasn’t invited to the NBA draft combine in May and so far has worked out with only two teams.
“I definitely feel like it was a slap to the face,” Keene said about the combine snub, “because I did something that nobody did in 20 years. I didn’t get no love just off that. I feel like I got punished because my team didn’t win games but it is what it is. It’s always motivation for me to keep working and show people what I can do.”