After The Shot, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins Sets His Sights Higher


Coach Jay Wright acknowledged that if he had been the one who had made what has become known as The Shot, he would have “definitely” talked about it — and talked about it a lot. That may be why he reminded the Wildcats — before they had even left their locker room on the night The Shot went in — that the revelry would have an expiration date.

After the celebration at the final in April had ended, after every cord of the nets had been snipped off, and just after the team prayer, Wright gathered his players around him as the last rectangles of confetti were being swept from the court. As the players stood in a circle, holding hands, he said there was much more to do, in basketball and in life.

“We’re going to celebrate for a long time, and you deserve that,” he told them. “But don’t let this define you.”

Afterward, he made a point of taking Jenkins aside. “This is going to be great because people are going to be talking about this moment for your whole life,” Wright said he told his star. “But if that’s always in your head, you’re never going to be getting better.”

Jenkins, 23, took that advice. He went back to campus just like any other student — albeit one who was regularly stopped for high-fives, photos and autographs. He and the team met with President Obama at the White House, where the president called Jenkins by his nickname, the Big Smooth. Sports stars like Jalen Rose and celebrities like Kevin Hart mentioned him and The Shot on social media.

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Kris Jenkins in a game early this month. The 6-foot-6 Jenkins, who has dropped weight since last season, has exemplified the team’s motto of “humble and hungry,” helping lead the Wildcats to a 12-0 start and the No. 1 ranking.

Credit
Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

And what did Jenkins do? With his senior season and a possible N.B.A. career ahead of him, he set to work. The motto for this season’s Villanova team — which improved to 12-0 with a 90-48 home victory over American University on Wednesday and is ranked No. 1 — is “humble and hungry,” and Jenkins has been the poster child for it.

His first task was to lose weight. Jenkins, who is 6 feet 6 inches, ended last season weighing 270 pounds, way above the 240-pound limit Wright had imposed on him in order to keep his starting spot.

This season, Jenkins is a relatively svelte 232, with well-defined muscles and less than 10 percent body fat. Instead of last season’s diet of late-night pizza, chicken Alfredo and fruit juice, he is now sustained by his desire to play in the N.B.A.

“I really give him credit because his personality hasn’t changed but his body certainly has,” his teammate Josh Hart said. “He even eats salad now.”

Wright is thrilled. For years, he had hoped Jenkins could learn how to take care of his body and control his weight before he left Villanova, if only to ensure that he could live a long and healthy life. Wright used to try to motivate Jenkins to do that, he said. Now Jenkins takes care of that himself.

One day last month, Wright and his wife, Patty, were rolling out their mats in a Bikram yoga studio, where the temperature rises to 110 degrees during the workout. In came Jenkins, wearing a long-sleeve shirt and long pants. He wanted to sweat.

“He’s been pushing himself to play on a whole different level this year, and it’s been so impressive,” Wright said. “He’s better on defense and has played more minutes because he has more endurance. You’ll see it. Not on offense. He’s just a better player, all around.”

While Jenkins’s scoring average (12.8 points a game after his 7-point night on Wednesday) is about the same as it was last season, his minutes and his 3-point percentage are up this year. Yet he won’t boast about that when he goes home to Upper Marlboro, Md., for the Christmas break. He wouldn’t dare.

Jenkins moved to Maryland in 2007 to live with Nate and Melody Britt, the parents of North Carolina guard Nate Britt, a friend from their youth basketball days. The Britts are now Jenkins’s legal guardians; Jenkins and the younger Nate Britt call each other brother and have adjacent bedrooms.

At the Britts’ dinner table, where basketball is often the main subject, conversation never veers anywhere near the title game. And Jenkins said there had never been a mention of The Shot, even when the younger Nate glances into Jenkins’s bedroom and sees the Villanova national championship banner that hangs on Jenkins’s wall.

“We never talk about it,” Jenkins told me, before pausing.

“But in 15 or 20 years, when I finally retire and stop playing basketball,” he said, “I’m never going to stop talking about it.”

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