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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, January 19, 2007

By Bethany Bradsher

Faith sustains Jenkins one more time

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Darrell Jenkins has been counted out before. And because he knows there are fans that have already dismissed the East Carolina basketball season as a lost cause, he is confident that he is meant to be a Pirate.

Jenkins, a junior transfer point guard who is averaging 12.5 points per game to lead all ECU scorers so far this season, has possibly had the most atypical rise to Division I basketball of any athlete in the nation. The highlights of his journey include almost no high school ball, a four-year college that never played him and two different junior colleges.

And as he traveled a cross-cross-country trek that took him from California to Georgia, back to California then to Nevada, Idaho and finally Eastern North Carolina, he found within himself not only steadfastness, but also a firm belief that God was directing his steps.

“I probably called every school in the nation,” he said of a period two years ago when he was languishing at Santa Anna College in California. “I got hung up on, 'no,' 'we’re not interested,' 'no thank you,' no response, and that hurt. I wanted to quit so many times, but my mom kept on telling me, 'God’s going to bless you, God’s going to bless you.' ”

It’s that unwavering hope, as well as his soft shot and excellent floor vision, that makes Jenkins a natural fit for East Carolina. He has found a family in his teammates, he said, and the chemistry and determination they share, he is sure, will lead to success in his short tenure at ECU.

“We’re all friends,” he said. “We want to win, but off the court we laugh, we hang out, we enjoy each other. On the court it’s hard, because I hate losing. We all do. But I’m an optimist — I bring the attitude that things will be different.”

A native of Anaheim, CA, Jenkins and his family moved to Atlanta when he was 10, and then they moved back and forth from California to Georgia a few times, enough to wreak havoc with Jenkins’ plans to star on a high school team. But he did get to play on a Georgia AAU team, and that was the arena that earned the respect of several college coaches.

His first scholarship offer came from Tennessee, and the Volunteers coach who pursued him was Chris Ferguson. Ferguson remained a friend, but Jenkins didn’t have the grades to sign at Tennessee.

Next he worked out for the University of San Diego, where Steve Flint was the assistant coach. Again, his academic struggles threw up a roadblock.

It seemed that his Division I dreams might be realized when Jenkins enrolled at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and walked on to the team. His family was so sure that he was going to land at UNLV that they moved there, too. But it didn’t take long for Jenkins to feel like little more than an accessory at the end of the bench.

“I didn’t play a minute,” he said. “I remember we were beating Western Illinois by about 40, and I still didn’t get in.”

Looking just for a chance to contribute, Jenkins next went to Santa Anna College, where he finished out that season. But he didn’t feel challenged there, and his game wasn’t progressing.

It was against this backdrop that he went on his Great College Search, spending hours on the Internet or on the phone in an effort to find the Division I coach willing to take a chance on him.

Jenkins might have been coming up dry in his pursuit, but his father was surfing the Web, too. The senior Jenkins’ research led him to the home page of the College of Southern Idaho, one of the premier junior-college basketball programs in the country. A look at the CSI coaching staff revealed a familiar name: Steve Flint, formerly of the University of San Diego.

“It’s funny, because my dad was just on the Internet one day and saw the name, and I don’t know what I’d be doing if he hadn’t,” he said. “I’d probably be at Home Depot right now.”

So it was off to Idaho for his second year of eligibility, and this was an entirely different junior college experience. With 9.1 points and 4.3 assists a game, he helped lead CSI to the NJCAA championship tournament.

Soon Chris Ferguson was calling again, this time from East Carolina.

He considered making a visit to ECU, but he initially made the decision to sign with Northern Iowa. Still, neither he nor his mother felt at peace with that choice. He apologized to the Northern Iowa coach, made his ECU visit and changed his course.

“I really feel that God has blessed me with this opportunity, and if he didn’t want me here, I wouldn’t be here,” he said. “And you know, I feel that his plan is to mold me into a better man and a winner. And I feel that I’m going to have my chance.”

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02/23/2007 01:14:32 AM

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