2010 shuttled Kevin Stallings's most highly rated recruit to Nashville in the form of 6'4" sharpshooter John Jenkins. Jenkins led the nation in scoring as a high school senior and fit the mold of three-point shooting scorer that the Commodores had been lacking since Shan Foster's graduation. He was given the chance to earn immediate minutes in a shallow backcourt behind Jermaine Beal and Brad Tinsley, despite his lack of big league experience. While he was an initial question mark in the Vanderbilt system, he proved that he had both the skills and the mental composition to be an impact player in the NCAA.
Jenkins turned in three SEC Freshman of the Week awards and showcased a major progression as the season went on, eventually stepping into the starting role at shooting guard and relegating Tinsley to the bench. He made his mark on games through his precise shooting, drilling 48.3% of his three-point attempts and averaging 11 points per game in just 23 minutes. His performance off the bench led to Jenkins earning the SEC's Sixth Man of the Year Award for 2009-2010.
John Jenkins -
Observational: Jenkins showed a definite progression throughout the season, going from background talent to focal point by the end of the season. Though it was apparent by the end of the out-of-conference schedule that he was headed for a starting role, few could have predicted how well the freshman would play once handed the reins at shooting guard. The freshman turned Vanderbilt's big three of Beal, Jeffery Taylor, and A.J. Ogilvy into a big four, and gave opposing coaches headaches when trying to build a game plan for Vanderbilt.
Jenkins came on especially strong as the season wore on. It's not exaggeration to say that he shot this team past Florida and Georgia late in the season. More importantly, after making a big mistake in the 56-58 home loss to Kentucky, Jenkins built himself back up into a better player - showing that the kid has the dedication to work on his mistakes and turn his weaknesses into strengths.
However, the sharpshooter's weaknesses were also a problem. Jenkins was a bit of a black hole on the perimeter and slightly one-dimensional - once he got the ball, it was usually getting shot, regardless of open teammates. He also was hesitant to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop, although the effectiveness of his outside shooting and the strength of teammate Jeffrey Taylor's drives may have played a role in his unwillingness to get to the paint. Additionally, Jenkins's defense was average, but he was part of a Vandy backcourt that developed a reputation for letting other guards tear them up for big points. Regardless, Jenkins has shown that his ceiling as a player is comparable to Reggie Miller or possibly Rip Hamilton's college days if he can work his way into the paint a bit more.
Statistically Speaking: Much like his counterpart at shooting guard, Jenkins's 2009-2010 can be broken down in to three pieces: the out-of-conference schedule, the first half of SEC play, and then the point at which he took over the starting role (against Arkansas) to the end of the season. Let's take a look at what the statistics say about his progression through the season:
|2010 SEC - Reserve||*8-3||22.3||6.9||43.4%||2.3||76.0%||4.2||39.1%||9.4||1.7||0.6||0.5||1.17|
|2010 SEC - Starter||*3-3||31.2||8.8||54.7%||1.8||63.6%||5.3||62.5%||14.2||3.2||1.3||0.5||2.67|
Thanks in part to a stomach virus, Jenkins was actually slumping slightly before taking over for Tinsley - who was in the midst of an even worse slump at a time. At the most important time of the season, Jenkins got huge minutes because he refused to shrink from the spotlight - he wanted that last shot of the game. Given the way he was shooting from three-point range, it's tough to blame him. Jenkins shot well and protected the ball better as the season progressed, although his assist numbers are a bit low for a guard. Disappointingly, his free throw attempts and free throw shooting both decreased in the spotlight, despite increased minutes.
It's also notable that Jenkins averaged a steal per game in this period - highlighting an increase from .2/game to .5/game to 1/game over the year. The stats suggest a higher level of comfort in Coach Stallings's defensive schemes and a greater willingness to take chances - though these risks also led to getting burned by his man on defense. Despite Vanderbilt's disappointing finish, it's tough to put any of the blame on the young guard. Some critics may argue that he was a little overzealous shooting the ball in the final minutes of close games, but given his track record, it's easy to see this as a benefit rather than a detriment from a freshman player.
Progression, Regression, or Static?: Progression. It's tough to say otherwise. It's easy to nitpick about the freshman's flaws, but the bottom line is that he's the type of dangerous 2 guard who can thrive in the SEC. He showed that he can protect the ball and make big shots in order to help the Commodores win games. Jenkins has lots of room to grow, but he's shown the willingness to build himself into a better player rather than resting on his laurels. Expect him to come into 2010-2011 after a summer in the weight room and a stronger interior game to complement the smoothest stroke in the Southeastern Conference. Jenkins has the chance to be the most prolific Vanderbilt shooter since Shan Foster - which might even qualify him as the best ever.
The sky is the limit for John Jenkins, and his time as a starter for the Commodores has shown that he's able to step up in pressure situations. Vanderbilt fans rarely get to see a freshman step onto campus with the poise and athletic abilities that Jenkins has brought to Nashville. Though the 'Dores are losing a titan in Jermaine Beal, JJ's shooting could help ease the pain of his loss pretty quickly if he continues to develop as he did in 2010.