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Timeout boys basketball: Merrillville guard BJ Jenkins playing a happy brand of basketball

Merrillville's B.J. Jenkins takes shot third quarter with Lake Cental's Tye Wilburn defending Merrillville High School Friday night. | Jeffrey

Merrillville's B.J. Jenkins takes a shot in the third quarter with Lake Cental's Tye Wilburn defending at Merrillville High School Friday night. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 22, 2013 10:09AM



MERRILLVILLE — BJ Jenkins is a happy basketball player.

A happy basketball player, depending on his personality, is better than an angry one or even a consciously determined player.

A happy basketball player can be a riveting, sharp pain for opponents.

A happy basketball player can have a residual effect on his team, making the other guys look better with his pinpoint passes and his selfless attitude.

A happy basketball player, playing loose and free and unencumbered, like Jenkins has so far this season, is a precious sight for the trained eye.

Happiness on the court is difficult to define. For Jenkins, it’s about feeling the moment and playing instinctively. When he breaks through a wall of defenders inside the lane, leaps toward the basket and then sees, for instance, Jelani Pruitt’s man make a move to help on him, Jenkin’s counter, a quick dish to Pruitt for an easy layup, is reflexive.

Happiness for Jenkins is not really completely understanding where his 3-point range is or even thinking about it too much. It’s somewhere around the volleyball, line though he quickly dismisses that limitation.

“I just shoot it where I catch the ball,” he said. “I just feel it.”

That’s a big part of being a happy player. Forgetting about your surroundings and just playing. That’s where Jenkins is right now. He is in a place where he actually feels good about banking in a 3-pointer. Yes, he has actually made two 3-pointers of the backboard this year. And, no, they were not accidents.

Yes, it’s true that Merrillville coach TJ Lux doesn’t like the banked in 3-pointer (“It about gave me a heart attack the first time he did it,” he said.) but he knows enough not mess with the Jenkins’ karma right now.

Happiness for Jenkins means playing basketball for the Pirates, who at 6-1, are as good as any team in Northwest Indiana.

Even practice, with the all-out scrimmages, is a blast.

“Oh yeah, it’s been fun,” he said. “I love talking to the JV and getting in their heads.”

Lux calls him a gamer and said he can be a mercurial player. He made 10 3-pointers last year against Highland. It was a good night but a problematic precedent because he was upset when every night wasn’t that good.

The game against the Trojans helped Jenkins in one respect: It gave Lux a talking point for how he needed to finish the season.

He wanted reliability. The Pirates guards — Jake Raspopovich and Jenkins — are prone to flashy passes and spectacular plays. The high-risk stuff gets them in trouble sometimes.

Lux wanted to find the medium.

“He was somewhat up and down,” Lux said of his play last year. “He had some big games but had some single digit games. We wanted consistency.”

After he hit a game-winning 3-point shot against Michigan City, Jenkins became the go-to player for Merrillville. He finished the year, on a very good offensive team that won a sectional, averaging a team-high 16 points.

Lux was concerned about this season, though. Jenkins didn’t play particularly well over the summer.

“Honestly, I didn’t think he played well at all,” he said. “I was really anxious. He has soothed my fears.”

Turns out there was a reason for his poor play. Jenkins wasn’t particularly happy. He couldn’t find an AAU team that he liked. He bounced around to three different teams before settling on one.

This season, after a bit of slow start, likely caused by transitioning from football, Jenkins has turned it on again in a way that makes him the player to try stop on a team that has very good offensive players Raspopovich, Zoran Talley, and Pruitt.

Jenkins is averaging 16.2 points per game and shooting 51 percent from 3-point range (20-of-39). He also dishes out three assists per game and he averages three steals. The Pirates are lucky. With Jenkins and Raspopovich on the floor, they essentially have two very good point guards. That is a luxury. Some teams around here would love to have one.

Lux said he is very efficient, extremely unselfish, confident and very good at knowing where everyone on the floor is at any given time. So good, in fact, that he sometimes has to stop himself in mid-windup when throwing a pass because one of his guys hasn’t found his way to the spot.

“He is very smart spatially, “Lux said.

Know what? For as good as Jenkins is on the basketball court and for as happy as he’s playing right now, he doesn’t consider basketball his main sport.

He’s a football guy. A first-team Post-Tribune All-Area player, Jenkins prefers football, albeit just a little. He said he’s going to play either football or basketball after high school somewhere. He’ll play the sport that gives him the best offer.

Jenkins isn’t thinking about football now. Stray thoughts are counter productive to happiness. He wants to stay in the zone and see where this all goes.



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