It’s a bit of a challenge for John Jenkins to run and jump right now. Even so, don’t expect him to sit.
The freshman guard for Vanderbilt played 18 minutes — the most for any Commodores’ reserve — and scored 11 points in a loss at Illinois on Tuesday, three days after he sustained a sprained knee and ankle in a victory over DePaul.
“It’s bothering me pretty bad, but I knew I had to fight for my team the other night,” Jenkins said. “I couldn’t show any weakness or pain so I went out there and played pretty hard on it. It’s pretty sore, but I’m going to keep fighting through it.”
That means he’ll be back in action Friday when Vanderbilt (6-2) faces Western Kentucky (4-3) in the second half of the Sun Belt Classic at the Sommet Center. Ninth-ranked Tennessee (6-1) will play Middle Tennessee State (3-5) in the opener. Tip-off for the first contest will be 6 p.m. with the second expected to start approximately 8:30 p.m.
“He practiced (Wednesday) and practiced well,” coach Kevin Stallings said Thursday afternoon. “I think he’s still less than 100 percent, but he’s actually showing some grit and toughness.
“I don’t know that I want to call it inspiring, but it’s been pleasing for sure.”
Tennessee Class AA Mr. Basketball in 2009 and a multiple All-America selection as a senior at Station Camp, Jenkins quickly assumed a prominent role with the Commodores. He scored seven points in his collegiate debut and has had no fewer than that number in any of the games that followed.
Currently he is the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 9.4 points per game, and his 15 3-pointers are one off the team lead of Jermaine Beal. He has made all eight free throws he has attempted.
Of course, there was little doubt that someone who led all high school players in the nation with a 42.3-point per game average for Station Camp in 2008-09 would be able to score in college.
The fact that he averages 19.1 minutes of playing time is a testament to the fact that he can do other things to help the team as well. No other bench player averages more than 11.3 minutes.
“Defense was the biggest thing,” Jenkins said. “Everyone knows in high school I wasn’t a big defensive guy. When I got here Coach Stallings made me play defense, which I expected to happen. I didn’t know I was that good at defense until I came here. It’s been a good addition to my game.”
Now he’s learned something else about himself — that he can play with pain.
Jenkins sustained what he said was a sprained medial collateral ligament and a sprained ankle when he got stepped on in the victory over DePaul.
He wore a brace on the knee at Illinois and missed his first six shots. He finally got comfortable late in the second half when he made three 3-pointers and a jump shot in a span of fewer than four minutes.
“I’ve had little minor injuries,” he said. “Nothing this big, nothing I’ve had to wear a brace for. It’s definitely new for me. At first I was kind of timid to jump real hard on it because I didn’t know what was going to happen, but I got my confidence going and after a while you just get used to it.”
Either that, or you get used to watching for a time.
“John wants to play,” Stallings said. “He’s a competitive kid and he wants to play. Like I said, I don’t think he’s 100 percent, but he’s trying to play his way through it."