Las Vegas Sun reporters Mike Grimala and Ray Brewer discuss the UNLV basketball team's chances the rest of the season. Can the Rebels make a Mountain West tournament run? We also talk about first-year UNLV football coach Marcus Arroyo's initial recruiting class.
There’s one thing everyone seems to know about David Jenkins: He can shoot.
In two years at South Dakota State, the 6-foot-2 guard made 42.0 percent of his 3-point attempts. As a sophomore in 2018-19, he drilled 45.3 percent from long distance, which ranked him ninth in the nation in accuracy. Exactly one year ago this Friday, Jenkins set a career high by hitting 10 3-pointers in a single game.
Again, he can shoot. And this UNLV team could certainly use a player with his skill set. But after transferring from South Dakota State, Jenkins is sitting out the 2019-20 season as a redshirt, as per NCAA rules.
Jenkins is allowed to practice and participate in team activities, but on game days he is limited to sitting on the bench and cheering on his teammates — and that’s just for home games. When the Rebels hit the road, Jenkins has to stay behind and watch on television like an ordinary civilian.
It’s not ideal, but Jenkins is trying to make the most of his season in exile. When he becomes eligible next year, he wants to bring more to the UNLV program than just his shooting ability. That’s part of the reasoning Jenkins used when he decided it would be worth it to sacrifice an entire year in order to follow coach T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota to Las Vegas.
“From the jump I kind of knew I was going to have to sit,” Jenkins says. “I’ve never sat in my life, so it was not something I was sure I wanted to do at first. I talked to T.J. and T.J. is an honest guy, he straight-up told me, ‘You’re going to have to sit because of how the rules work, even though I left and it was out of your control.’ I knew it, but it was also something I wanted to take a chance on because I knew I wanted to take a step in my game, on and off the court, and this was the best place to do that.”
Jenkins scored 19.7 points per game last year, and his individual efficiency mark of 1.059 points per possession ranked 21st nationally among players who used as many possessions as the Tacoma native. When it comes to putting the ball through the hoop, Jenkins is elite. His goal now is to get the rest of his game to that level.
Jenkins has spent the year focused on improving as an all-around player, with particular emphasis on his defense and passing.
“There’s a few things I wanted to do in my sit-out year,” Jenkins says. “I know some friends who took a year off and didn’t get better. They stayed the same or regressed. I didn’t want to be one of those guys. I wanted to be even better than I was as a sophomore or freshman at South Dakota State. I wanted to use another year to work on my deficiencies, like defense and certain other aspects that I felt like I could work on.”
He is also consumed with the idea of being a team leader. He recognizes how hungry the UNLV program and its fan base are for a return to the NCAA tournament, and he believes strong, floor-level leadership will be one of the most important factors in making that happen.
Jenkins hasn’t let his redshirt status hold him back from becoming a vocal leader.
“In most instances you would say a person who’s not playing can’t say much,” he says. “But the way I am, with my personality and traits, I don’t care if I’m playing the whole year or not, I’m going to speak up because that’s just how I am as a person. That’s how I lead. Each and every day in practice, that’s what I can do. I’m going to speak up.”
It’s not just the volume of his voice that makes Jenkins stand out during practices, because he can back it up with his play on the court. He takes his work on the scout team seriously, and when UNLV is set to face top Mountain West players like UNR guard Jalen Harris or San Diego State guard Malachi Flynn, the coaches tab Jenkins to portray them in practice.
Jenkins embraces that role and has a good time imitating the league’s best scorers.
“My intent is to win each and every drill,” Jenkins says. “I’m on the scout team, so we go against the starting five and my intent is to win. I know that’s not just helping me, but my competitive spirit is helping them as well, because if I’m going in and talking trash and trying to win every drill, it’s building their confidence and making them play even harder.”
And when Jenkins lights it up in practice, he lets his teammates know about it.
“It’s very frustrating, because in practice when he has good days he talks mess,” sophomore guard Marvin Coleman says. “But it helps guys like me, Amauri [Hardy], Eli [Mitrou-Long]. We guard David every single day and David goes at us and gives us a great look on the scout team. Defending him every day makes me more confident in my ability to defend guards on the other team.”
Sometimes Jenkins does such a good job of mimicking All-MWC players that Otzelberger finds his mind wandering to thoughts of next season, imagining the kind of impact Jenkins could make.
“It’s a bit of a tease, because you’re seeing him every day,” Otzelberger says. “We’ve found ourselves in the midst of a lot of close games this season, and David loves the big moment, he loves the big game, he loves the spotlight. Throughout his first two years that I was with him [at South Dakota State] he made a lot of big shots. As many close games as we’ve had, David is one of those guys you know in those games that he can go make a play or get a basket in a key moment.”
In addition to driving his teammates on the practice floor, Jenkins has also been one of the ringleaders of regular late-night expeditions to the Mendenhall Center, pushing the players to work on their own time. It’s in those moments, when players are left to their own devices and end up talking trash and going at each other in impromptu shooting competitions that bonds form and the program’s culture is set.
Bringing that attitude to UNLV has been Jenkins’ biggest contribution so far.
“It started in the summer,” Coleman says. “We’d be in the gym late at night. Me and David talked about it a lot. Sometimes if we didn’t have a great practice or didn’t shoot it well, we’re spending our free time after practice at the gym. We get three or four guys every night.”
Coleman says the Rebels have to work hard in order to match Jenkins’ intensity.
“He’s very competitive,” Coleman says. “He hates to lose, and that’s evident every single day in practice. Every day we’re like, ‘We’ve got to stop David.’ That gives us the right mindset.”
Of course, dominating in practice only goes so far for someone with Jenkins’ competitive streak. He says there have been times this season that it has physically pained him to not be able to play — particularly when the Rebels hosted No. 4 San Diego State on Jan. 26.
Undefeated San Diego State edged UNLV, 71-67, and Jenkins believes he could have made the difference.
“We had them at home, and I just felt like we just needed a little more to beat them at the end of the game,” Jenkins says. “I felt — no, I know if I was in that game we would have beat them. And it hurt me because they were 20-0 and we could have handed them their first ‘L’ if I was out there helping the guys out.”
Jenkins is doing everything he can to make sure that when he does become eligible next season, he can make in impact in those types of big games. That’s why he doesn’t regret sitting out, because he believes a year spent on individual development will benefit him — and the UNLV program — in the long run.
When he does finally suit up for the Runnin’ Rebels, he plans to make a difference.
“I’m looking forward to leading a group of guys who want to win,” Jenkins says. “I’ve been to the NCAA tournament, so I know how it is, I know what it looks like and I know how it feels to get to that, and I want these guys to experience that. I’m so dedicated and motivated to get back to the NCAA tournament because I know if we get there and win some games in the tournament, that’s what is really going to get this program going.”