SAN ANTONIO — Two years ago, Kris Jenkins hit The Shot and gave Villanova its second national championship.
Two years later, he’s out of a job and at “rock bottom.” At least, that’s the way it looks.
Villanova will afford him resurrection.
Jenkins returns to the Final Four this weekend as a TBS analyst, his basketball life in tatters. He left Villanova in 2017 but went undrafted. He played three summer league games with the Wizards in July but they didn’t keep him. He failed a physical with a team in Turkey in October. He lasted just six games with Sioux Falls of the NBA G-League and was waived in December, but latched on with the Yakima SunKings of the North American Basketball League in January for 15 games, six of them starts. He was scoring 9.7 points, hitting 35.9 percent of his 3-point shots, and averaging 26.7 minutes.
Then, on Wednesday, the SunKings suspended him indefinitely. Not only was he suspended, the team issued a scathing release from the coach, published in the Yakima Herald, that claimed Jenkins, who has struggled with his weight all his life, “was simply not willing to put in the time and the effort.”
“That didn’t happen. That’s not true,” Jenkins said … smiling? “It was disappointing to see they would try to bash me like that given what I’m about to experience here. What they wrote was 100 percent false.”
SunKings coach Paul Woolpert told Philly.com later Thursday that the SunKings had released Jenkins. Woolpert said he had given Jenkins permission to join the TBS crew Monday and return Tuesday, but when Jenkins didn’t show up Wednesday they suspended him, then released him Thursday.
“The end of his employment was entirely of his doing,” said Woolpert. “Kris left of his own accord, and he left for good. He cleared out his hotel room.”
Woolpert said Jenkins suffered a concussion as soon as he joined the team, and the 10-day recovery period exacerbated Jenkins’ chronic weight problems.
“I wasn’t happy with his weight,” Woolpert said. “We all enjoyed Kris as a teammate. We all wish the best for him.”
Jenkins did not respond to requests for comment after he was released, but he clearly expected it. He didn’t really seem to care.
“Kris Jenkins just has a way of making everything difficult,” said Kris Jenkins, with a shrug. “I always hit what people consider to be rock bottom, but I always come back. Just stay tuned.”
He sat in an unassigned locker inside Villanova’s dressing room at the Alamodome, where the Wildcats will play Kansas on Saturday night. Jay Wright, his former college coach, asked Jenkins to run the scout team at practice that afternoon. Jenkins, who is 6-foot-6, is listed on the Sioux Falls roster as weighing 235 pounds, but from the looks of things, that’s before about 30 pounds of moose burgers.
“It’s just his weight,” said Wright, who continually benched Jenkins for not making weight. “It’s his commitment every day to his diet. His workout regimen. He’s about having a good time.”
Jenkins swears: Not any more.
After each setback, Wright offered Jenkins the chance to return to Villanova and hit a reset button. Finally, after the Yakima fiasco, Jenkins is heading back to the Main Line.
“I think that was kind of rock bottom,” Wright said.
“I found myself … ” in Yakima
After several years of unstable family life Jenkins, who was living with the family of basketball buddy Nate Britt, was adopted by the Britts. He was playing basketball on Nate Britt Sr.’s AAU team, and, for the next 11 years, Jenkins had boundaries and support.
“Our father was like a drill sergeant. He was a D.C. detetctive for 25 years,” Jenkins explained. “Then I got to Villanova, everything was the same way. Very detailed. To have that for so long, and then be by yourself, it was definitely a big adjustment.”
Too much of an adjustment for a player whose size, strength and athleticism let him cruise through college. The rigors of minor-league professional basketball — bus rides, little sleep, bad food — pushed Jenkins out of a job. They also pushed him into adulthood.
“I found myself, mentally, there,” Jenkins said. “I was able to get by myself. Figure out the things I did, when I had that structure, that were best for me. Now that I know that, and I figured it out on my own, I can come back and ask for help I need from people.”
The TBS viewing audience won’t care about Jenkins’ body-mass index. They’ll want him to talk about The Shot.
To review: Tie game with North Carolina, 4.7 seconds left. Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono dribbles upcourt along the left sideline. Villanova center Daniel Ochefu tries to set a screen near midcourt and fails. Arcidiacono dribbles toward the top of the key, Jenkins trailing to his right. Arcidiacono draws two defenders. Jenkins is open about five feet away, about 28 feet from the basket. Arcidiacono shovels a pass, underhand, to Jenkins, who immediately shoots it. He releases the ball with 0.8 seconds to play. The ball was eight feet from the rim when time expired. Swish. It was the first buzzer-beater to win an NCAA final.
“I still can’t describe how the shot fell,” Jenkins said. “I don’t know.”
For the past two years Jenkins has been reluctant to embrace the magnitude of the moment. He had another year of basketball to play at Villanova, and he had a professional career to pursue. He refused to let one shot define him as a basketball player.
The events of the past nine months have changed his mind.
“You embrace it. It becomes a part of you forever,” he said. “It’ll never bother me. Eventually, I want to get married and have kids. When they see moments like that they’ll know their dad was a good player.”
Jenkins is just 24, so he still has a chance to create more moments, as long as he lays off the milkshakes. He’s on his way.
Jenkins worked out with Villanova strength coach John Shackleton on Thursday morning before he practiced with the team Thursday afternoon. Jenkins pointed across the dressing room at “Shack,” who was reaching into a cooler for a bottle of water.
“I’m going to live with him the entire summer,” Jenkins said. “The next time you see me, it’s safe to say, there won’t be any more ‘Get in better shape’ questions.”
He smiled again. He looked a little heavy, but not like a guy anywhere near rock bottom.