‘An unbelievable human being’: Why UNLV transfer David Jenkins Jr. will become a fan favorite
Tacoma, Washington, native sounds like a winner — on and off the court
Spend a few minutes talking to new University of Utah player David Jenkins Jr., and the thought occurs to you.
This guy should go into broadcasting.
And you would be right.
If this basketball thing doesn’t work out, the Tacoma, Washington, native who is transferring from UNLV with a degree in communications already in his back pocket wants to be a sports commentator, he told the Deseret News in early July.
“I have two years (of eligibility) left, because of the extra year for COVID. My plan right now is (to play two years at Utah). I mean, I love it here, man. I like the coaches. I love how our team is. I don’t mind being here for two years.” — UNLV transfer David Jenkins Jr. on staying at Utah
“I aspire to be a broadcast journalist, someone you might see on ESPN, like Stephen A. Smith, or one of those guys,” Jenkins said.
Talk about a perfect fit. Jenkins is well-spoken, articulate and obviously knowledgeable about basketball, having spent a year at a prep school in Kansas (Sunrise Christian Academy) and two years shining for South Dakota State before following coach T.J. Otzelberger to UNLV in 2019.
And now he’s a Ute, and could fill the shoes of departed star Timmy Allen as the team’s unofficial spokesperson.
“He would be a phenomenal commentator,” said new/former Utes assistant DeMarlo Slocum, who was with Jenkins at UNLV and largely responsible for getting the 6-foot-2 guard to Utah after he entered the transfer portal in late March. “He is just such a personable person. He loves talking to people. He is always the life of the party. He is smart, and (commentating) is something that comes really easily for him.
“He will approach anyone in the right manner, with respect,” Slocum continued. “Yeah, he is just one of those guys who has a way about him where that profession will fit him perfectly.”
Having alternate career plans is all well and good, but first things first. What Utah basketball fans really want to know is this: Can Jenkins step in and become the go-to guy for new coach Craig Smith on a team that not only lost leading scorer Allen, but emerging stars Rylan Jones, Ian Martinez and Pelle Larsson?
Smith pretty much promised that when he announced Jenkins’ signing on April 14, saying in a school news release that “David has proven over the past four years to be one of college basketball’s most dynamic scorers.”
Indeed, Jenkins averaged 14.8 points last year for the Rebels as a redshirt junior, and has averaged 16.9 points in 97 games in his college career, having dominated opponents in the Summit League for the Jackrabbbits, 16.1 points as a freshman and 19.7 as a sophomore.
He averaged 28.0 points per game his senior season at Wilson Senior High in Tacoma.
“He is a high, high level scorer, right? He obviously is a guy who had some big college games. He can score from all over,” Slocum said. “He can score from behind the 3, he is an unbelievable mid-range scorer, and he is a kid who can get to the rim and get fouled as well.”
At UNLV last year, Jenkins started in 20 of 27 games and shot 40% from the field, 41% from 3-point range (second-best in the Mountain West) and 77.3% from the free-throw line.
“He can do a lot of things on the offensive end,” Slocum said. “And he is a combo guard. He can play both spots. But we brought him here with the understanding that he has to play a high-end brand of defense in addition to scoring for us offensively.”
Although the 2021-22 season will mark Jenkins’ fourth in terms of eligibility (he redshirted his first year at UNLV, due to NCAA transfer rules which have since been changed), he isn’t saying it will be his last.
“I have two years (of eligibility) left, because of the extra year for COVID,” he said. “My plan right now is (to play two years at Utah). I mean, I love it here, man. I like the coaches. I love how our team is. I don’t mind being here for two years.”
Obviously, academics and life after basketball are important to Jenkins. So is getting a shot at the NBA, and he will decide at season’s end which direction to take.
At Utah, he hasn’t decided yet, either, whether he will pursue a master’s degree or a second degree to go with the communications degree he received May 30 at UNLV.
“The more I can add on top of that degree, the better my resume will look,” he said.
Jenkins first met Smith when he played for South Dakota State and Smith was coaching at rival South Dakota.
“I have always appreciated the way he coached and how he got the best out of his players,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says at the end of games, after shaking hands, he would circle back and find Smith and chat with him for a second “because I had respect for him as a coach and how he goes about it.”
When Smith was at Utah State and Jenkins at UNLV, Jenkins paid attention to how Smith handled high-volume scorers such as Sam Merrill.
“He knows how to play with guys like me,” Jenkins said.
Of course, Slocum coached at Utah for eight seasons under Larry Krystkowiak before joining Otzelberger at UNLV, and when he joined Smith’s staff it was natural that Jenkins would have some interest in the Utes because he had developed a strong relationship with Slocum in two years in Las Vegas.
“Two coaches I admire at the same school was tough to pass up,” Jenkins said. “I had an outstanding relationship with coach Slocum. We were very close. He taught me a bunch of stuff about the game. So he came here, and I not only had some familiar faces at Utah. I had some people I could depend on with coach Slocum and Craig Smith.”
Jenkins said playing for a Pac-12 school was something he has thought would be fun since he was young. And Slocum convinced him that Salt Lake City, far from the bright lights of Vegas culturally, was his type of city.
“Salt Lake City has the type of environment that I can thrive in,” he said. “I think it is essential to have really good people around you and positive vibes around you. So I think that’s kind of why I picked the situation overall.”
When he entered the transfer portal for a second time, Jenkins said “too many schools to count” contacted him about coming their way, but he narrowed his choices quickly to a handful of schools in the West, mostly in the Pac-12.
After taking a “hard look” at Utah due to his familiarity with Smith and Slocum, he made the decision quickly.
“I heard Utah was a tremendous school with a great environment,” he said. “I was only in the portal for maybe two weeks, and then I committed. … With all these players in the portal, I knew that committing quickly was essential, because if you don’t, you start losing your spot at the (big) schools.”
Slocum said it wasn’t too difficult to recruit Jenkins to Utah, because he “is a relationship guy, and he had been recruited by everyone in the country. So it wasn’t about the notoriety and attention of phone calls. He just wanted to go somewhere where he could trust the staff, obviously perform on the Pac-12 platform.
“He probably heard me say the words University of Utah every day while I was at UNLV,” Slocum continued. “He had some excitement and knowledge of what it was all about from that experience as well.”
What can Runnin’ Utes fans expect?
Whether he scores five or 25 points a game for the Utes, Jenkins will be an outstanding addition, says Slocum, who watched him grow from a scorer to an all-around player at UNLV, and from a newcomer to a leader in a short amount of time. He calls him the “American dream” of what a coach is looking for.
“First and foremost, he is an unbelievable human being,” Slocum said. “He comes from a great family and commands the respect of his teammates and the people who are around him. In the landscape of college basketball today, that is not the easiest thing to find in some of these individuals, and student-athletes.”
In an exclusive interview with the Deseret News in May, Smith said that Jenkins brings a winning attitude and leadership ability to a team that will need that with only a couple of returning starters: Riley Battin and Branden Carlson.
“He’s not just a premier scorer, he’s a premier person,” Smith said.
Jenkins said he will play with a “chip on my shoulder” and with a “pitbull mentality” because people have told him he’s not a complete player.
“I bring that competitive edge, that grit,” he said. “I am that guy who is going to talk a little smack to get everybody going. … Yes, I know I can score on offense. But I want everybody to know how good of a defender I can be as well. So I am going to make sure I push myself to be a great defender this upcoming year.”
He won’t back down from anybody, he said, not even some of the best players in the Pac-12.
“I am not the tallest guy, but I am strong, and I am going to go after you and I am going to create that competitive edge on the court,” he said.
Along with basketball and schoolwork, one of Jenkins’ biggest passions is cars. He drives a Dodge Charger with a Scat Pack and a 6.4-liter V8 engine.
“I am into fast cars, and muscle cars overall,” he said. “I like the way they sound.”
Utah basketball fans will like the way their new race car sounds as well — after he’s done playing, of course.