Pride of Hofstra: Jenkins winding down extraordinary career
Hofstra retired Charles Jenkins' No. 22 jersey at its home finale last weekend
Jenkins, a remarkably efficient guard, is one of the nation's most underrated stars
Hofstra must win the CAA tournament as the No. 3 seed to earn an NCAA bid
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Charles Jenkins can't move an inch forward. The countless 4-foot-something kids rush to Jenkins' side, eager to get his autograph. The literal pride of Hofstra basketball is attempting to get to the locker room, but he is engulfed by a sea of white No. 22 jerseys. Jenkins' jersey was retired before this his last home game, and these kids all received replica versions as a promotional giveaway.
Amid the frenzy outside of his locker room, Jenkins patiently signs the jerseys and poses for pictures with three teenage boys. One of the boys has the audacity to put Hofstra's star point guard on the spot.
"Hey Charles, how would you like to go play with the Miami Heat next year," the boy confidently asks. Theoretically, this kid could be on to something, as the Heat could use a floor general, but Jenkins gives a slight chuckle and continues to sign the back of jerseys unfazed.
"Think about it! You can run the floor with Dwyane Wade," another boy chimes in, hoping to get a reaction out of Jenkins. Again, Jenkins shrugs off the notion and continues to sign various jerseys.
"Shhh, don't mention that now," the third boy instructs his friends. "He doesn't want to talk about that."
Jenkins responds with a simple nod and a subtle grin, agreeing with this assumption.
"People ask me things like that all the time," Jenkins said. "They feed into the rumors and read the articles, but one of the things that I try not to do is worry about that."
Jenkins is soaking up every minute as his magnificent career comes to a close at Hofstra. He already owns a pair of Haggerty Awards, an honor given annually to the best Division I player in the New York metropolitan area, and is in the running for a third straight. (Only two players have ever earned the distinction in three straight years: Chris Mullen of St. John's and Jim McMillian of Columbia.) And Jenkins has surely saved his best for his senior season. Jenkins is fourth in the country in scoring at 23.2 points per game, despite averaging just 14.6 shots per game. He is the only top-15 scorer shooting greater than 50 percent (52.8).
"Charles can't do anything else statistically here," first-year coach Mo Cassara said. "He's embraced me since day one and that's why we've been able to build a team in such a short time to make a run in the CAA tournament."
For his career, Jenkins is 37 points shy of 2,500, a feat only 60 Division I players have ever accomplished. His career points total is second in CAA history to David Robinson.
With all the accolades and accomplishments, it was no wonder that Hofstra decided to retire his jersey in last Saturday's regular season finale against Delaware.
"When I got the news that they were going to retire my number, I knew my brother is really looking down on me," Jenkins said, referring Kareem, who was shot to death in Brooklyn in 2001. Jenkins was 11 at the time of his brother's passing. "The number 22 represents my brother's age when he passed away. It was the last game me and him are going to be in this building together."
Pride fans, Hofstra staff and even a couple of Jenkins' own teammates on the bench proudly displayed the white replica jersey throughout the game. "It was crazy to see everyone out here wearing my jersey and seeing the support for me and my brother," Jenkins said.
A sold-out crowd of 5,050 people at the David S. Mack complex, chanted "Char-les Jen-kins" in unison when the jersey was unveiled.
Jenkins followed the ceremony with an inspired performance. Behind even more resounding chants like "N-B-A" and "You-Can't-Stop-Him," Jenkins poured in 21 points and led Hofstra to a 79-60 win, improving the Pride's record to 20-10 (14-4 in the CAA). Cassara gave Jenkins one last curtain call on his home floor, removing him with just under a minute left. Jenkins knelt to the floor and repeatedly used his jersey to wipe the tears from his eyes before embracing his teammates and then his coach.
"When I was in high school, I think I cried my senior year," Jenkins said after the game. "But it was nowhere near how emotional I was after today."
While it was the last time Hofstra fans could see Jenkins in the Mack Sports Complex, his career with the Pride isn't over. Hofstra is gearing up for a run this weekend in the CAA tournament as the No. 3 seed. Hofstra is not a viable at-large candidate for the NCAA tournament, so there's only one road to the Big Dance: winning the conference tournament. Jenkins and the Pride begin their quest on Saturday in Richmond, Va., against the winner of James Madison and William & Mary.
However, with his career winding down at Hofstra, it's tough to ignore the looming NBA draft in June.
"Not only is he one of the best scorers in the country, but he is also one of the most efficient," said Jonathan Givony, President of DraftExpress.com. "Hofstra really doesn't have a long history of winning seasons. But what really says a lot about him as a player is that as he has gotten better, so has his team. He's not just putting up stats but also getting his team wins."
Despite his impressive production, Jenkins is still considered a prospect with something to prove before he heads to the next level.
"Something that is going to hurt him in the evaluation process is that he really hasn't gone up against NBA-caliber guards," Givony said. "If he could make it to the NCAA tourney and have a great game against an NBA-caliber backcourt, he could really dispel a lot of the doubt that people might have about him."
Jenkins has become accustomed to this type of talk, but he knows what really counts.
"I've seen people who have had their head filled with that kind of NBA draft stuff and they forget that you play for a team," Jenkins said. "They try to come out and play different to impress scouts and end up taking a step back. One thing I've leaned is the more you win, the better it helps you in the long run."