McKeesport, PA. – Every year, thousands of high school athletes take to the court competing on high school basketball teams throughout the country. It is a place where they can put their skills on display in hopes of getting recruited by coaches at the college level so they can continue their passion.
However, for Penn State Greater Allegheny senior Jordan Jenkins (Pittsburgh, PA./University Prep) his journey to college basketball was much different then the traditional player. Growing up, Jenkins was more of a football player, playing the sport since he was very young all the way up through the ninth grade. He tried out for the basketball team in fifth grade, but it was football that was his main focus.
“I actually tried out to play basketball in elementary school,” said Jenkins. “I didn’t even know how to play basketball I just tried out because I wanted to. Since then, basketball wasn’t on my mind, I was more of a football player until ninth grade. Football helped give me that ‘just do it’ attitude and to not complain about things.”
It wasn’t until tenth grade gym class at University Prep that the sport was reintroduced to Jenkins. He would play with a group of his close friends in gym class and together they were a team that gelled Jenkins would play with this group of kids almost every single day and continued to improve his skills over time.
“In our gym class, everyone was playing basketball and if you weren’t playing you were sitting on the bleachers watching,” said Jenkins. “I played with a few close friends of mine and we had a good team and great matches going on. We would always talk about how we dominated the other teams in the gym. When I got to 11th grade I started getting better and in 12th grade I wanted to try out for the high school basketball team.”
However, growing up in a single parent home, Jenkins had a responsibility to uphold at his house. Growing up it was just his niece, his mother, and him and everyone had to do their part to make sure that the household ran smoothly and everyone had what they needed. On the day of the high school basketball tryouts, duty called and Jenkin’s plans of playing high school basketball were derailed.
“The day of tryouts I had to babysit my niece who was staying with us for a while,” said Jenkins. “Before school ended my mom had called me and asked me to watch my niece and I said ‘alright I’ll watch her.’ I didn’t even bring up the basketball tryouts because I knew she needed me to be there for her.”
With the tryouts missed, Jenkins would continue to play basketball in the gym with his friends and continue to hone his skills in hopes he could tryout for a college team. Through an after school male mentoring program called “Reaching Back”, which Jenkins has been involved with for several years, he was able to find his future both academically and athletically.
The mentoring program is run by Malcolm Taylor and the goal is for the students to give back to their communities. The group made a couple visits to the Penn State main campus giving Jenkins a familiarity and allowing him to see Penn State as an opportunity to continue to grow.
“Mr. Malcolm had gone to Penn State main and he always used to talk about all of the great things about it,” said Jenkins. “We went to visit the main campus a few times, so I was already familiar with the campus. It opened my eyes as an option for a campus to apply to because of the familiarity that went along with it.”
Jenkins ended up getting accepted and went to the main campus for his freshman year. He was in the gym almost non-stop trying to improve his game. However, his grades took a hit and he wasn’t able to keep up with his classes. That is when he found Penn State Greater Allegheny, offering him a chance to improve his grades while living a little closer to home.
In his sophomore season, Jenkins took a year off from basketball focusing on his studies. He said the smaller class sizes allowed him to feel more comfortable and get a better learning experience tailored to his needs.
“The transition between Main Campus and GA was kind of Settling,” said Jenkins. “GA was very helpful in terms of getting books and things like that and the class sizes made it more engaging. It was a more comfortable setting for me because I came from a school where the students in a class max was 20 students, and GA helped me feel more comfortable.”
Jenkin’s GPA would skyrocket in that sophomore year opening the door for him to pursue the basketball career he wanted. It was through friend and fellow teammate Eronn Hammond that Jenkins got in touch with head coach Tyler Care and his basketball career at PSUGA began.
“The summer of my Junior year I was just working out with Eronn because we live around each other,” said Jenkins. “He is a big reason why I played on the team. He influenced me to play basketball here because he was playing as well. I would always come to the open gyms to play basketball and most of the basketball team was there so that’s how I got familiar with my teammates.”
Jenkins would go on to play two seasons under Coach Care mainly coming off the bench and providing strong minutes when he was on the court. His best year came in his senior season when he saw action in six games and averaged 2.3 rebounds per game. Jenkins was also part of the 2017-2018 team that made it to the USCAA National Tournament for only the second time in school history in his Junior season.
It is these experiences with the team that Jenkins says will stick with him as he continues on from PSUGA. Getting the experience of the USCAA National Tournament was something that Jenkins never thought he would be able to do, but PSUGA gave him that opportunity to just take in the moment.
“Just experiencing the playoffs and national tournament and what we did was just a cool experience,” said Jenkins. “Being that I was involved with it was like ‘this is what it is like to be on a good championship team.’ I have never been to something like the national tournament and it was cool to experience all the teams and activities and it was just a cool experience to experience.”
As Jenkins gets set to move on from PSUGA, he isn’t quite sure where life will take him next. His goals are to possibly open his own small business and get to travel and experience as many cultures as he can. It is through the help and assistance that was offered to him at PSUGA that Jenkins says opened the doors for his success and he encourages the next generation of PSUGA students to use those resources and keep their confidence high.
“Use the resources that PSUGA has on campus,” said Jenkins. “Don’t let anyone kill your confidence, if someone doesn’t believe in you believe in yourself and be sure to take care of yourself mentally.”
With PSUGA Graduation coming up this Saturday, Jenkins will be one of the many students who will walk across the stage inside the Wunderly Gymnasium. With his head held high, Jenkins will walk into whatever life throws at him and take it head on as he strives to be greater every single day.