Diploma, not ball, comes first for Jenkins

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Charles Jenkins is off to a fabulous start in his final season at Hofstra. Through nine games, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound guard is averaging 25.3 points per game -- fourth best in the nation.

On Saturday, if he scores five or more points against Manhattan, he'll cross the 2,000-point threshold for his college career -- a major milestone.

And yet, two days before that game, after a late-morning/early-afternoon practice at the Mack Sports Complex on campus, Jenkins had other things on his mind besides basketball.

More specifically, graduation. Since Jenkins has already completed enough credits, he will receive his degree at Hofstra's midyear commencement Sunday morning.

"Graduation is big," Jenkins said. "Graduation right now is bigger than basketball."

Not exactly what you expect to hear from an NBA prospect.

Jenkins will add that diploma to the many honors he has already received, the most prominent of which is the Haggerty Award, given to the best college basketball player in the New York City metropolitan area. Jenkins has won it two years in a row and is the heavy favorite to win it for a third time this spring -- something that's happened just twice in the Haggerty's 77-year history.

And yet, Jenkins doesn't get nearly the publicity you would expect, being New York's best college baller.

"I've always been that guy," Jenkins said. "Even coming out of high school, there was a lot of people who didn't know who I was."

Jenkins was a star at Springfield Gardens High School in Queens -- a star shaped profoundly by something that happened to him just before high school, in the eighth grade. His older brother, Kareem, was shot and killed in Brooklyn.

"That was the worst thing ever, that ever happened to me," Jenkins said. "I was doing very good in school at the time, and I remember just shutting down. ... School didn't matter to me, homework, basketball -- nothing."

Jenkins ended up getting expelled.

"It wasn't until I got kicked out of school my freshman year, where I realized that, I can't be this guy forever," Jenkins said. "Life goes on. I can't keep dwelling on the past and what happened. I just have to take into consideration what happened, and move on."

Jenkins moved on to Springfield Gardens, became an honor-roll student and earned a basketball scholarship to Hofstra -- where he wears uniform No. 22 to honor his brother, who was 22 years old at the time of his death.

He also honors his brother before every game, by writing something and posting it on his Twitter account. "I always write, 'I'm always at peace on the court because I know you're watching,'" Jenkins said.

If Kareem is watching, he's surely enjoying what his little brother is accomplishing on the basketball court. Last season, Jenkins was one of only five players in America to average at least 20 points (20.6), four rebounds (4.5) and three assists (3.9) per game. This season, he has elevated his game to another level. Besides upping his scoring average, he's shooting 58.8 percent from the field (astounding for a perimeter player), 80.3 percent from the foul line and 47.5 percent from 3-point range.

And Jenkins doesn't just lead his team in scoring -- he also leads it in assists, at 4.2 per contest.

"From coaching the last four years in the ACC, there's not many guards in the ACC better than Charles Jenkins," said first-year Hofstra coach Mo Cassara. "He'd certainly be one of the best, if not the best."

Cassara, 37, spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach at Boston College under Al Skinner. When Skinner was let go by BC in the spring, Cassara signed on at Hofstra to serve as an assistant under Tim Welsh. Welsh had just been hired to replace Tom Pecora, Hofstra's coach for the past nine years, who'd recently taken the coaching job at Fordham.

But less than 30 days into his tenure, Welsh was arrested on charges of drunken driving. Welsh subsequently resigned, and Cassara suddenly was given his dream shot -- a Division I head-coaching gig.

Hofstra's second- and third-leading scorers elected to transfer amid all the coaching turmoil in the spring, but Cassara has been able to guide the Pride to a 5-4 record thus far, with Jenkins stuffing the stat sheet.

But the thing Cassara has been most impressed by is Jenkins' coachability.

"After we lost the other day [to Florida Atlantic], he didn't play very well defensively. And he knew it," Cassara said. "And then the next day, his first message to me on the phone was, 'Hey, Coach, make an example of me in the film room today. It's gonna help the team.'

"You know, not a lot of guys would do that."

Nor would a lot of guys in Jenkins' position have embraced the overall college experience the way Jenkins has. He has been a fixture on campus during his years in Hempstead -- at other Hofstra teams' games, freshman orientation sessions and various other school functions.

"A lot of my family members, they didn't go to college," Jenkins said. "I'm kinda like taking advantage of it. I could have just sat up in my room by myself. But it's about getting out, supporting.

"I'm at a school with other athletes who're on scholarship, and they're working as hard as me in the offseason to get better. So why not come out and support them?"

"He's a special, special guy that way," Cassara said.

On Saturday, Jenkins will join a very special and select group, becoming just the seventh player in school history to score 2,000 career points. Yet Jenkins didn't sound too excited about that Thursday.

"Honestly, it really don't mean much," Jenkins said. "Winning is more important around here to me than winning any individual award."

But Sunday is a whole different story.

"A lot of my friends, they always tell me, they're living college through me -- some of my friends that didn't go to college," Jenkins said. "So they're gonna be graduating, too."

Put another assist in the box score for the best player in New York.

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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