It’s a quiet, calm winter night in Westchester, New York. The sun is starting to set shortly before another Westchester Knicks home game. John Jenkins, a former first-round pick and NBA veteran, is writing the next chapter of his professional career on the court of the Westchester County Center.
Jenkins is warming up on the court and is dialed in on his pre-game warm ups. His focus and determination are at a high level. As the great Stuart Scott would say, Jenkins looks as cool as the other side of the pillow.
But this isn’t new for the veteran guard. This isn't the first chapter of his professional career nor is it his first time performing under the lights of the County Center.
Before Jenkins suited up in the Knicks blue and orange, he spent three years with the Atlanta Hawks after the team selected him with the No. 23 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. After suffering a back injury four months into his sophomore season, the Vanderbilt product doubted himself a bit that he would return to his old self.
“I doubted a little bit at first,” Jenkins told Ridiculous Upside. ‘Some of those days in rehab were just very strenuous and I didn’t know mentally. I had to dig in. I have a great family behind me and great faith. Once I got going, I saw better days. It was full steam ahead.”
Rehabbing from a back injury is a tough injury to return from. As Jenkins stated, the days were strenuous, but the challenges he faced helped make him better and build character.
“It just makes you appreciate the little things and it builds character and mental toughness,” the veteran guard continued. “I’ve never really felt adversity until probably around my first year in the NBA, so I went through high school and college not really going through much. When it hit me for the first time, it made me really man up and I would just say just going through all of that has just made my character even stronger. And having a family now to take care of definitely changes everything and you just want to do what’s best for them.”
After being waived by the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, Jenkins was on the outside looking in. He was claimed by the Westchester Knicks off waivers in February of 2017 and finished out the season there. The G League was a new journey for the veteran and it was something he embraced. His first stint in Westchester was short, but he relished every moment.
The sixth chapter of his career was his first taste of overseas experience. He took his talents to Spain and joined San Pablo Burgos. He averaged 12.6 points per game and shot 48.0 percent from the field, but he knew where he belonged.
Jenkins may only be two months away from his 28th birthday, but he has seen a lot through his professional career. Two years ago, he was out of the league. He’s seen more things than most 27-year-olds, but continues to use it to his advantage, which may help propel him towards his dream. With that in mind, he continues to improve his game and accomplish more than what others may have expected.
“I’ve been through so much,” Jenkins said. “Probably way more than most 27-year-olds have as a professional. I’m using that to my advantage. Honestly just using my experience on the court. Sharing my journey with my teammates and telling them that anything is possible. Using that to my advantages as far as being where I’m at now is playing well and mentally I just feel like I’m at another level.”
After wrapping up his season in Spain, he already had his top options in mind for his seventh season.
“Obviously NBA first, but if that didn’t happen, I wanted to come back (to Westchester) and keep going with my dream,” Jenkins said. “I feel like I’m very close to getting back and I didn’t want to go back overseas and be out of sight and out of mind.”
Jenkins returned to Westchester for his second stint a different player. Mike Miller, head coach of the Westchester Knicks, saw a maturity to him and feels “he’s very centered on what he wants to do, where he wants to be, and what he needs to get there.”
Jenkins echoed similar statements where his mindset is different and the game is slowing down for him.
“I think just mentally I’m just in a different mind set,” Jenkins said. “I think having a wife and child put me in there. I think just slowing the game down, really studying my craft, and watching other players at my position. It’s really been good for me just to get minutes under a different setting other than Spain. Just having a coach that believes in you is everything; not just in the NBA, but in any sport. It goes a long way.”
Through the different situations he has seen, those experiences are pushing the Westchester guard to his next NBA opportunity. Jenkins knows what the goal is and is continuing to make an impression through his game.
“I really just try to take it day-by-day,” Jenkins said. “My end goal is definitely the NBA. I feel like I’ve showed more than what they knew I had so far this season. I just have to continue to do that. Really working on my leadership skills in the locker room and being the older veteran. Being more vocal. I think the more I stay in the moment, the better I’ll play.”
He is averaging 25.4 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from beyond the arc and is connecting on 3.3 triples per game. While he is a known scorer and has become more efficient with his shot, Jenkins has been more of a distributor and is averaging 5.2 assists in the last six games. He continues to relish his opportunity in Westchester and attributed his success due to Miller.
“I think Coach (Mike) Miller is putting me in a good situation from day one,” Jenkins said. “We had a great talk before the season about what I wanted to improve on and what I wanted to show coming back this year. So far so good. We’re winning games. I’m playing well and I’m just trying to keep it up.”
With the way Jenkins has been playing this year, it’s almost a matter of when he’ll be back on an NBA court. That will be a moment the 27-year-old may remember for a long time. He’s been through a lot throughout his career and he feels he could write a book about his journey. The highlight of Jenkins’ memorable seventh chapter will be the moment he returns the NBA. When that moment does come, he feels like he might shed a tear.