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Taylor Jenkins

MikeCheck: Jenkins keeps Grizzlies connected, eager to ‘pick up where we left off’ if season resumes

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

Between homeschooling his kids, video conferencing with his staff and evaluating the rap mixtape demos his star power forward has been recording, Taylor Jenkins might be every bit as busy as he was when the Grizzlies season was in full swing.

“There’s no script for where we’re at as a team, as a league, and for me as a coach,” Jenkins shared Tuesday of the path his team has navigated lately. “It’s unprecedented for sure. But we continue to keep them engaged and excited about their development.”

Jenkins remains hopeful that the path will eventually lead to the continuation of his team’s promising basketball season once the Coronavirus crisis clears. This week marks a full month since the NBA went on hiatus as the spread of COVID-19 shut down the sports world amid a pandemic that’s impacted much of the globe.

With team practice facilities deemed off-limits by the NBA while cities are under stay-at-home mandates and social distancing guidelines, Jenkins and the Grizzlies are trying to make the most of their time off from games. That involves keeping digital lines of communication very active.

At end of the day, I don’t envy any of those decisions. So many factors are involved. My focus is on what messages are we sending our players in each session we have for them. Hopefully, we’re doing enough in the meantime to keep our guys engaged. I have utmost faith in our team, no matter what’s thrown our direction. We had a 3 ½-games lead, in that eighth seed, (and) earned the right to be in that spot. No matter what’s thrown at us, we’ll be in a great position to make that playoff run.

Taylor Jenkins

Speaking on a conference call with the local media for the first time since the NBA suspended its season March 11, Jenkins started by thanking first responders, medical staffers and community volunteers “for putting their lives at risk to keep us safe every single day.” The first-year Grizzlies coach also reiterated how sports take a backseat to public health and safety as healthcare systems across the country try to curb the spread of the virus.

Once that happens and professional sports are deemed safe to return, Jenkins would like to see the Grizzlies get a chance to finish what they started this season – a push toward the playoffs.

Ja Morant and Taylor Jenkins
DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 5: Ja Morant #12 of the Memphis Grizzlies and Taylor Jenkins of the Memphis Grizzlies look on during a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images.

Memphis held a 32-33 record and a 3 ½ games lead for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference race when the season was stopped. The Grizzlies were in Portland on the eve of what set up as a crucial game against the Blazers when the NBA halted play leaguewide. If or when league officials consider potential options to resume the season at some point, the Grizzlies believe they deserve a shot to maintain their inside track for the postseason.

“Hopefully we do resume, pick up where we left off,” Jenkins said. “At end of the day, I don’t envy any of those decisions. So many factors are involved. My focus is on what messages are we sending our players in each session we have for them. Hopefully, we’re doing enough in the meantime to keep our guys engaged. I have utmost faith in our team, no matter what’s thrown our direction. We had a 3 ½-games lead, in that eighth seed, (and) earned the right to be in that spot. No matter what’s thrown at us, we’ll be in a great position to make that playoff run.”

Jenkins’ conference call in Memphis came a day after NBA commissioner Adam Silver indicated that any decision on how the league might move forward this season may not come until May.

“Essentially, what I’ve told my folks over the last week is that we should just accept that, at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver told TNT Network’s Ernie Johnson during Monday’s NBATogether broadcast. “And I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be (finalizing a decision).”

We just want to assure everybody that while we’re putting the health and safety of everyone first, we’re looking at every possibility to get our players back on the floor and to play NBA basketball again.

Adam Silver

League executives and the NBA’s Players Association have been in discussions in recent weeks on a number of issues. Among the topics have included the payment structure of remaining player salaries for rest of this season, organizing potential competitive games among players and the possibility of resuming the season under quarantine guidelines in neutral site venues.

Next week would have marked the end of the 82-game regular season schedule, with the NBA playoffs set to begin on April 18. But even the most optimistic projections wouldn’t have the season potentially resuming in any form until well into the summer months, if at all.

Adam Silver press conference
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 15: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks to the media during a press conference at the United Center. Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images.

Silver also participated in a conference call organized by the White House last week that brought together commissioners from the major professional sports. He confirmed this week that the NBA would not return until receiving the “all clear” from global health officials.

“We miss it badly,” Silver said during the NBATogether digital program. “We just want to assure everybody that while we’re putting the health and safety of everyone first, we’re looking at every possibility to get our players back on the floor and to play NBA basketball again.”

Count Grizzlies second-year power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. among NBA players who remain optimistic while biding their time during the hiatus. At the time play was suspended, Jackson was on the verge of returning from a knee sprain that sidelined him for three weeks.

I get on the treadmill and push yourself on it, almost do it until you can’t. Eventually, it’s going to help you when you get back on the court. It’s hard to do whatever with no court (to shoot), but you have to find a way.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Since then, Jackson has remained in Memphis and has split his time between watching game film at his apartment, working out on his parents’ training equipment and recording rap music to eventually release to the public. The Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer and leading shot blocker this season, Jackson has participated on the team’s weekly video calls organized by Jenkins.

The players have also remained connected on their own via social media. On Tuesday, the Grizzlies shared from the team’s social media account a screenshot of a video conference in which most of the players and coaching staff participated.

Jaren Jackson Jr. warmups
SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on prior to the game against the Sacramento Kings. Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images.

The toughest challenge, Jackson said, is not being able to have access to a basketball court.

“There’s a treadmill at my parents’ house, so I get on it, and there’s a bunch of weights,” Jackson said of working out when he’s not watching Netflix shows, playing video games or creating new music. “I get on the treadmill and push yourself on it, almost do it until you can’t. Eventually, it’s going to help you when you get back on the court. It’s hard to do whatever with no court (to shoot), but you have to find a way.”

During his recent appearance on Grind City Media’s 3-Point Stance presented by MTN Dew, the 20-year-old Jackson said he’s had time to focus on priorities, including some important projects. And when the season does resume, he’ll have a better grasp on ways to spend rare free time.



“You have a lot of time to yourself, you just realize what was important to you and what wasn’t,” Jackson continued. “When you go back to reality, when everybody is back out again, you have a better perspective of what you want to do. That always makes me think of what I do with Youth Basketball and Girls Basketball, and how I’m very involved in that. That’s always been a passion of mine. I can just see the game being taken away from so many people right now and how it’s affecting them. When everyone comes back, I definitely want to hit the ground running and making sure I’m making a difference.”

When you go back to reality, when everybody is back out again, you have a better perspective of what you want to do. That always makes me think of what I do with Youth Basketball and Girls Basketball, and how I’m very involved in that. That’s always been a passion of mine. I can just see the game being taken away from so many people right now and how it’s affecting them. When everyone comes back, I definitely want to hit the ground running and making sure I’m making a difference.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

In the meantime, the NBA has encouraged its 30 franchises to continue being viable resources in their home markets and beyond as cities combat hardships created by the COVID-19 crisis. The Grizzlies are among organizations that have stepped up in numerous ways the past month.

Almost immediately after the NBA suspended the season, the Grizzlies committed to paying game-night arena workers according to schedule for the rest of the NBA and G League seasons. Also, owner Robert Pera agreed to donate 300,000 meals to local food banks to help offset shortages throughout the community. And team officials recently spoke with the Army Corps of Engineers about using FedExForum as an overflow medical facility if needed.

“Everybody is working to keep everything running and keep information flowing as best as we can in an environment that requires a little bit of patience,” Grizzlies president Jason Wexler told Grind City Media of addressing the past month’s challenges at both the local and league levels. “We’re all working together to try to do what’s best for our community. We’re trying to support in every way, shape and form that we reasonably can.”

On the basketball front, Jenkins is pleased with how his relatively young team has remain engaged in the face of uncertainty as they await the next steps. He also confirmed Tuesday that no Grizzlies players showed any COVID-19 symptoms in the weeks since returning from last month’s abbreviated trip to Portland.

For now, the job as coach involves keeping players informed of medical information, league guidelines and regional regulations pertaining to health and safety. Along the way, Jenkins has seen growth in his players beyond the sport of basketball.

We’re all working together to try to do what’s best for our community. We’re trying to support in every way, shape and form that we reasonably can.

Jason Wexler

“They’ve always been a group of players who loved the learning process,” Jenkins insisted. “Now they get a lot more of that. So for me, it’s be there, be that voice of optimism, to listen to questions, to smile across someone’s screen and set positive vibes. Guys are diving into hobbies a lot more. Music talents, cooking skills, photography. They’ve wrapped their minds around exploration in other areas, as it helps to navigate this unforeseen pathway.”

Once that path is safe and clear, it’ll soon lead back to what brought them all to the Grizzlies.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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