Greenville Daily Reflector
Jenkins leads Pirates against No. 2 Memphis
By Tony Castleberry
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Darrell Jenkins' transformation seems to be complete.
East Carolina's senior point guard has gone from being the team's main scoring threat last season to not even looking for his own shot much during the current Pirates' campaign. And the change has been beneficial for ECU, which opens Conference USA play tonight at No. 2 Memphis.
With Jenkins doling out assists like few Pirate guards before him, East Carolina's offense has found a groove of late. While a consistent go-to scorer has yet to be found, the Pirates are utilizing a balanced attack with Jenkins at the forefront, setting up his teammates, limiting turnovers and averaging just 7.5 field goal attempts per game.
It's a different approach from last season when Jenkins was routinely jacking up at least 10 shots per contest, not all of them high-percentage ones.
"Last year, sometimes he had to score out of necessity," ECU coach Mack McCarthy said. "We want the point guard to think: run the team first, score when the opportunity presents itself. He's got to keep the other four guys happy. I think he would have done that last year had that been what he needed to do. But there were nights where he was our best offensive weapon. Fortunately, the best thing for the team, he's not necessarily our best offensive weapon each and every night."
Even though he was counted on to score more last season, Jenkins still etched his name in the ECU record books by racking up 166 assists, a single-season school record.
This season, his assault on several other assist marks continues as the Pirates look to improve on last year's 1-13 finish in C-USA play. Jenkins is two helpers shy of becoming just the third ECU player to notch back-to-back 100-assist seasons. He should soon move into fifth place on the all-time list and, if he continues on his current pace, Jenkins could pass Japhet McNeil for second place by season's end, when he'd have 384 assists. Travis Holcomb-Faye holds the school record with 413 career helpers.
While acknowledging he keeps up with his assist totals and where they rank in the ECU record books and on the national stage, Jenkins is by no means selfish. It's next to impossible for an effective point guard to worry about his own numbers and there doesn't seem to be any danger of Jenkins doing that this season.
"Last year I had to do the bulk of the scoring," said Jenkins, who recorded a career-high 13 assists in the Pirates' win over N.C. Central last Saturday. "But as a true point guard, that's my role, setting up the guys for shots. Like I've said before, I'd rather get an assist than score. I think right now I'm in the top 10 in the nation and my goal is to be No. 1. As long as Sam (Hinnant) and Gabe (Blair) and James (Legan) and John (Fields) and everybody else on this team is hitting shots, it makes me feel good."
Hinnant, who leads the team with an 11.8 points per game average, agrees.
"I think Darrell had a chip on his shoulder of being a scorer (last season)," Hinnant said. "He had to take a lot more shots. This year, he's turned into a pass-first point guard and is dedicated to getting us the ball at all times."
Having an experienced floor general no doubt puts McCarthy's mind at ease. ECU may need Jenkins to score more from time to time, but for the time being, his role is clearly defined and the Pirate offense is better for it.
However, McCarthy won't mind if Jenkins does look to score more as defenses concentrate on limiting Hinnant and others.
"I'm fine with what his role is right now," the coach said of Jenkins. "I think when we have the lead late in games, he'll have the ball so that's some extra points that he'll get. As people put more pressure on Sam and James, if they're hot, I think that will give him more opportunities to look for his own shot."
As it is, Jenkins seems content with letting his teammates handle the scoring. He'll be the guy tossing them the ball.
Tony Castleberry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (252) 329-9591.