The outdoor basketball courts of Newark are often filled with trash, broken bottles, old socks and guys who think they're Allen Iverson but play like Alan Greenspan. So it's no wonder that Jose Rebimbas, the coach at Division III William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., was unenthused one night three years ago when he attended a summer league game at Branch Brook Park to watch a player who had agreed to attend William Paterson. "I was sitting there, ready to be bored," says Rebimbas. "Then, wow!"
On the first play of the game, a guard known as June dribbled downcourt, stopped on a dime and sank an NBA-range three-pointer. On the next possession, June dribbled downcourt, stopped on a dime and sank an NBA-range three-pointer. "I'm asking the people around me, 'Why isn't anyone playing up on this kid?' " recalls Rebimbas. "Someone says, 'You haven't seen his crossover.' "
Later in the game June showed off the deadly crossover, leaving his defender frozen on the asphalt as June exploded to the basket and dunked over a 6'7" center. "It was one of the greatest shows I've ever seen," says Rebimbas. "Nobody knew his real name. Nobody knew what school he went to. He was a mystery."
Although Horace Jenkins (a.k.a. June), a 6'1", 180-pound senior point guard for William Paterson, can still go unrecognized in many corners of the Garden State, his days as a basketball mystery man are over. With his quicksilver moves and 44-inch vertical leap, Jenkins has drawn the attention of NBA scouts, who regularly attend Pioneers games to watch him. Through Sunday, William Paterson was 18-4 thanks to Jenkins, whose 26.5-point average was third in Division III. "Lately I've been getting all sorts of attention," says Jenkins. "I guess people love a good story."
A good story? How many 26-year-old former electricians with a fianc�e and two kids have a chance to jump from the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) to the NBA? "He's got NBA quickness, and he's explosive," says New Jersey Nets scout Tom Barrise. "He's a Division III player, but he may surprise everyone."
That has been Jenkins's way since 1992, when he was ineligible to play basketball as a senior at Elizabeth ( N.J.) High. Jenkins spent the following season at nearby Union County College, where he averaged 20.6 points as a freshman but dropped out the next year after his son, Hakeem, was born. "It was more important to be a responsible dad than a basketball player," says Jenkins. "So I went to work."
During the next five years Jenkins lived with his mother, Jean, and made between $8 and $14 per hour as an electrician and a postal clerk. When Rebimbas offered him a chance to resume his college career in 1998, Jenkins was ecstatic. "My mom always told me that she never expected me to be perfect," says Jenkins, "but she has expected me to go back to school and earn my degree."
Jenkins is on his way to doing that. A two-time NJAC player of the year, Jenkins is a communications major with a 2.7 GPA and is scheduled to graduate in December. "I truly feel I'll be playing in the NBA next year," he says, "but if not, basketball has led me to knowledge and an education."