When David Jenkins Jr. committed to first-year head coach Craig Smith and the University of Utah out of the NCAA Transfer Portal on April 14, it marked good news for both men.
The good news for Jenkins was that he no longer had to deal with Smith game-planning to stop him. Between playing stints at South Dakota State and UNLV, Jenkins faced Smith-coached teams five times. Out of those five meetings, Smith’s defenses at South Dakota and Utah State held Jenkins, a 1,600-point scorer in his career, to 25% shooting from the floor or worse three times.
The good news for Smith is, well, he no longer has to game-plan to stop Jenkins. One time of those other two times Jenkins faced Smith, he dropped 29 points on 10-for-19 shooting in the 2018 Summit League championship game as a freshman, pacing the Jackrabbits to a 97-87 win and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The other was a 33-point outburst last season for the Runnin’ Rebels in a game the Aggies won, 83-74, in Las Vegas.
The shared good news for both Jenkins is that they are now on the same team.
“It’s funny, you always go shake hands after the game, but I would always circle back and find him again because I just respected the way he coached and how he ran things,” Jenkins said during a recent interview at the Huntsman Basketball Facility following a team workout. “He’s the only coach I’ve ever seen get the max out of every player he puts on the floor. That’s something I wanted to be a part of. I had schools recruiting me, there were high-majors calling during the process, but I wanted to go somewhere with people I trusted, and I’ve seen what Coach Smith can do.”
Up until now, Jenkins’ entire college career had been spent under T.J. Otzelberger. The then-South Dakota State head coach recruited Jenkins out of national power Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. Jenkins spent two productive seasons there, but when Otzelberger got the UNLV job in March 2019, Jenkins followed him to Las Vegas.
He took a redshirt in 2020, then averaged 14.8 points for the Runnin’ Rebels last season as a redshirt junior. When Otzelberger got the Iowa State job in March, Jenkins did not go with him a third time, but he did wind up following another ex-UNLV staffer.
An Otzelberger assistant at UNLV after spending the previous eight seasons at Utah under Larry Krystkowiak, DeMarlo Slocum was brought back to Utah by Smith, which helped fuel Jenkins’ decision to choose the Utes.
“Me and him, when I first got there, we would always go at it,” Jenkins said with a smile. “Argue, this and that, but that made us closer. The way we’re built, it made us closer. We got to know each other, we grew to respect each other’s character. We’d work out every day. When I saw him coming here, he’s been here, I know Slocum cares about me more than just a player. That’s the most essential thing overall.”
Jenkins was a primary option on offense at both South Dakota State and UNLV, and that doesn’t figure to change at Utah. He’s been a high scorer his entire career (16.9 points per game across 97 contests). He has also been a high-volume guy (12.7 field goal attempts per game last season, 12.9 for his career). All of his shooting percentages dipped from his second and final season at South Dakota State in 2019 to his only season at UNLV in 2021, but not alarmingly so. To that point, how much the daily grind of the COVID-19 pandemic affected Jenkins’ play is essentially unquantifiable.
Putting up big numbers in the Summit and the Mountain West is one thing, but putting up big numbers in the Pac-12 would be quite another. Whether or not Jenkins’ previous accolades will translate over will be one early-season storyline, but he certainly doesn’t lack confidence, and his faith in Smith is clear.
“Scoring is what I’ve been doing my whole life,” Jenkins said. “That’s something I know Coach Smith knows that I can do, so I know he’s going to put me in the correct position to be successful in that regard.”