John Jenkins’ sharp shooting never has been a secret – well, at least, not to Vanderbilt.
The Commodores recruited Jenkins for his 3-point shot. The Station Camp grad averaged 42 points a game his high school senior season and shot nearly 50 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
That didn’t change last season during his freshman campaign at Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 48.3 percent (72-for-149) from 3-point range. His 72 3-pointers were a freshman school record, he averaged 11 points and 23 minutes off the bench and was named the Southeastern Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year.
Yes, after last year, the word is out in the SEC – Jenkins can shoot the long ball.
But as he begins his sophomore campaign – Vanderbilt hosts Alabama-Huntsville in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. Wednesday – the shooting guard says he hasn’t let all of his tricks out of the bag.
“You are going to see a whole lot of things this year,” Jenkins said. “I worked on everything from rebounding, ball handling, putting the ball on the floor more and creating my own shot pretty much.”
Vanderbilt lost 27 points a game with the departures of Jermaine Beal , who graduated, and A.J. Ogilvy, who declared for the NBA draft after his junior year and is now playing basketball in Turkey.
That means that point production will have to be replaced. Jenkins is one of those players who will try to fill that void – and not just by sinking 3-pointers.
“He will need to be a guy that we can go to in the crunch,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Fortunately, I don’t think he has to carry the scoring by himself. He is going to have other guys that are capable of putting points on the board with him. But certainly he will be a primary scorer for us and somebody that is going to need to be productive on both ends of the court because he will be in the game a lot.”
Just 16 percent of Jenkins’ total points last season came from inside the 3-point line. Though he didn’t drive to the basket much, he did reach the free-throw line 60 times, which was the fourth-most on the team, and shot 80 percent from there.
His job was to hit the big 3-pointers and ice games with the clutch free throws, but his teammates know that’s not all he can do.
“I just feel like that was his role, and roles tend to change from year to year,” forward Andre Walker said. “He has definitely worked on his driving ability. I think that will help because people are so conscious of him 3-point wise. He has definitely expanded his game.”
Jenkins said he cut fat and gained more muscle in the offseason. He weighs 205 pounds.
“I feel a whole lot better this year than I did last year,” he said.
He also focused on shoring up his defense. It wasn’t an area where he felt he was weak but he said after guarding some of the best dribble-drive players – Kentucky’s John Wall came to mind – he realized he could improve.
“My off-the-ball defense – I have gotten a whole lot better in that,” he said. “As long as I stay in front of the guy I am all right. I did a good job of moving my feet for the most part. It is all how bad you want it, man. If you don’t want to play defense then you are not going to play defense.”
Therefore, as a starter, there will be more attention on Jenkins this year. He won’t just be that offensive-minded, spot-up shooter anymore. Teams will be coming at him, whether he is on offense or defense.
But handling pressure isn’t new to Jenkins. Remember, this was a guy who averaged 42 points a game as a senior and was named the Gatorade Tennessee High School Player of the Year.
“I have been through that all through high school. I know what that feels like,” he said. “I have been there, done that. So I am going to play my game and hope for the best.”