The walk from the Migliore Manor apartments to the recreation center in Elizabeth, N.J. is just a few minutes long, but to a slightly-built young boy and his mother, it was a treacherous journey that was lined with danger. Every abandoned lot or boarded up building was a wrong turn that could have drawn Horace Jenkins
in like so many before him and never released its hold on him.
Jenkins, 26, is an elder statesman in a very young group of Draft prospects.
Ray Amati/NBAE Photos
|NBA.com TV report on Jenkins: 28.8+ |
These are the streets that Jean Jenkins always tried to keep her son, Horace, away from. When he was a young boy, she would cram Horace and his friends into her apartment across the street from Jackson Park, using board games as bait. And when Horace was 24 years old, she was still prodding him from the street.
He had given up on school, taken odd jobs as an electrician and on the back of the garbage truck his father has ridden for 29 years. He had responsibilities to tend to, a son to feed, and the money he earned was enough to pay the bills and squelch any childhood dreams. But he still played ball, taking to the playgrounds after work was done, and on the court at Newark's Branch Brook Park, he found the dream once again.
"I played every day and I got criticized from every angle," said Jenkins, who will be 27 years old before the start of next season. "There were people telling me, 'You've got too much talent. You don't want to be a neighborhood star.' It kind of bothered me. In a sense I was lost. I always was told a person hates to hear the truth and what they were telling me was the truth. They were giving me constructive criticism, but I was working and I was kind of making ends meet. I had a son. I was trying to be a responsible father. Even though I wasn't enjoying what I was doing, I was making from $8 to $14 an hour, getting a few dollars, and that's what I was always told, to be a responsible person."
|Scouting Report on Jenkins|
|"Horace has speed and quickness, not just on the Division III level, but NBA speed and quickness. Now, he's catching up in terms of bringing his level of play up to NBA standards. In the drills, he is just uncheckable. One on one, you don't want to cover him. He has new things he has to learn, the ability to make choices on the fly, running a team. Those are things he's picking up along the way."|
-- Milwaukee Bucks consultant Ed Tapscott
"I didn't know who he was, but after the game, I took him aside and told him, don't worry about Division III or anything like that. If you're good enough, they'll find you. If you ask me, I'd say yes, he can play in the NBA. He's got the quickness of Allen Iverson, the shooting ability of Stephon Marbury, and he can dunk on just about anybody. He can do it all. From what I've seen, if I was a scout, he'd be on my short list."
-- Knicks guard Rick Brunson
"He's a terrific young man. He definitely has NBA quickness. He just makes things happen on the court with superior quickness. He plays hard and does a lot of good things."
-- Nets president and GM Rod Thorn
"Then my mother had a long talk with me and I sat and listened," he said. "And it really helped me realize, I never even gave it a shot. I walked away from the opportunity that was there. I can look at it as God put me in this situation for a reason, to see if I was willing to put in the hard work and overcome the obstacles in front of me."
The obstacles were easy to see, but so was the talent. And on hand to witness it was Jose Rebimbas, the head coach of William Paterson University, who had ventured to the park to watch Muffeed Thomas, an incoming freshman who had already committed to the Pioneers. But Rebimbas could not take his eyes off the slight point guard who was scoring from all angles.
"After watching him play for three quarters, I went to Muffeed and said, 'Who's this kid?'" Rebimbas recalled. "He said, 'He's your starting point guard next year.' He said that Horace really wanted to come, so after the game I gave him my business card and said, 'Listen, I hear you're interested in going to school. You're obviously a wonderful player. But I've been down this road before and I'm only going to do this if you want to do this. I said, my card is here, I live 45 minutes away, and if you want this bad enough I'll get a phone call in 45 minutes. I got home and the phone was ringing. We spent an hour talking about life, where he wanted to go. We've had some bumpy roads, but we've been able to keep him on track."
The track has led Jenkins to heights that even he would have been hard-pressed to envision. Following a stellar career at William Paterson, Jenkins has found himself in the national spotlight, named the Division III Player of the Year three times. Once his senior season ended, he was the only Division III player invited to Minneapolis for the Division I Final Four slam dunk competition, which the 6-1 point guard won in convincing fashion. He has spent the last few months jetting to the NBA's three pre-Draft tournaments and has just begun crisscrossing the nation to attend workouts with individual teams. Projected as a likely second-round selection, it would be hard to bet against Jenkins pushing his way into the league.
"I knew that I could play against the best," Jenkins said. "I'm not at a small school because of my talent. I chose to do things the way I did, but I have just as much talent and I'm showing that. I don't know if these other players get to this point and get satisfied, but I'm not going to be complacent. It's an honor to be drafted, but I know I have the potential to do more than just be drafted. I have the potential to make an impact.
"One on one, there was basically no one that could check me. A lot of the things I did, the scouts told me that I was the one of the best. I've worked hard for this and I'm so focused right now. Getting to play against the best, it just lights my eyes up. Some people don't want to come to these camps, but me, being the only Division III guy there, I had everything to gain. I came to answer the questions."
Jenkins averaged 23.7 points per game in his three-year career at William Paterson. Ray Amati/NBAE Photos
It is a confidence that never wavered through his odd path to this point. Jenkins never played a day of high school basketball, coasting through Elizabeth High School with just enough effort to graduate, but never enough to be eligible to play on the highly regarded team. And after one season of junior college ball at Union County College, the grades deteriorated again. His son, Hakeem, was born, and he walked away from the game. After three years, he was back, finding his way onto the William Paterson roster with players six years younger than he.
His reputation quickly grew, but it was not only Rebimbas and his staff that looked out for Jenkins. He found a place in the Jersey Shore Summer League, far from the inner city streets in the balmy coastal town of Belmar, where Jenkins found himself among players from the NBA, as well as the upper levels of college basketball.
His first summer, he was matched up against Rick Brunson
, who had already earned a spot on the Knicks' roster. And while Brunson, along with teammates Eddie Jones
and Anthony Mason
, wondered just who this kid was, Jenkins brought the crowd in the tiny St. Rose High School gym to its feet, scoring 38 points. Brunson is not on a short list of players who share this opinion. Duke point guard Jason Williams engaged in a duel with Jenkins this past summer and found himself outscored, 49-30.
His son Hakeem is now six years old, and his daughter, Ha-Nasa, now two years old, took her first steps at Midnight Madness during his junior year. He is on course to earn a degree, with a 2.7 GPA, which he points to as proudly as his 27 points per game scoring average. But if he will never forget his time at the William Paterson campus, he doesn't forget his roots on First Street either.
"One of the roughest things was the friends I left behind," Jenkins said. "I'm real close with a lot of people from my hometown and they're probably the most supportive people for me. But there comes a time in your life when you've got to put that aside. The best thing about the whole situation is that they understand. They are pulling for me as much as anyone. I walk down the street when I go back there and it's like I'm a celebrity. Kids come up to me and ask me when my next game is or how many I scored in the last game, and I want to make it to give them someone to look up to."