Villanova needs Kris Jenkins to be complete, yet 'smoove'

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Kris Jenkins was scrolling down his Twitter feed on Jan. 5 when he spied a suggestion about his basketball future.

"and that's why Kris Jenkins will play in europe and never in the nba."

Jenkins thought for a minute about the invaluable opinion of the man with 400 followers and decided he deserved a response. So Jenkins hit quote, retweet.

"Noted," he wrote.

And to a point it is noted, the doubters have crawled out of the woodwork and from under their rocks since Jenkins' championship-winning 3 to do what sports fans do best. That is, to cut up, dice up and spit out a guy until he’s knocked so far from his pedestal he can’t even spy the foundation.

Yes, it's noted. It is not, however, belabored. Gus Johnson might have nicknamed Jenkins "Big Smoove" for his sublime shooting skills, but it fits his personality, too. He is more amused than annoyed at the critics.

"That was fun," Jenkins laughed when asked about that tweet following Villanova's 79-54 dismantling of Xavier ("our annual Villanova ass-kicking," is what Xavier coach Chris Mack called it). "But hey, a little extra motivation never hurt anybody."

The truth is that Jenkins is probably the single most perfect person in college basketball to hit a game-winning, life-altering, etch-your-name-in-history-forever shot precisely because he does not care that he hit a game-winning, life-altering, etch-your-name-in-history-forever shot. He is no more caught up in the praise that followed that April moment than he is in the folks who like to cut down his game now.

"He's really unique," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I've mentioned it a couple of times and to be honest, I'm amazed. I really am. This is not an act up here. He really is that that humble. He really wants to get better."

In truth, that championship shot was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing for obvious reasons but a curse because now everyone believes every shot Jenkins takes will go in.

He missed? What?

But Jenkins' goal this season was never to merely live up to what he did as a junior. He wanted to improve. Finally physically fit and more accustomed to being fit after struggling with his weight his entire career, he wanted to work on defending better and rebounding more, on dishing assists and swiping steals. That buzzer-beating 3 means he always will be known as a shooter, but Jenkins intends to be something far more than that.

"He wants to be a complete player and not just a shooter," Wright said.

The tricky part, though, is that Villanova needs Jenkins to be both the complete player that he's striving to become and the smoove-shooter the nation has come to know. Phil Booth remains sidelined with tendinitis, an issue that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. Omari Spellman is ineligible.

That means the Cats go seven deep, with just Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo offering any relief off the bench. DiVincenzo has been especially effective -- Wright called the former state player of the year "the Michael Jordan of Delaware" -- but if the Wildcats are going to meet outside expectations and internal hopes, they can ill afford too many off nights from Jenkins.

And, to be frank, he has had a few this season. He went 10-of-16 from 3-point range in back-to-back games against Penn and Saint Joseph's, only to follow it with 3-of-12 shooting in his next two games. Great against Temple (4-of-6), he was decidedly less so against American and DePaul (4-of-12).

But in the past two games, Jenkins has shown both parts of himself. Against Marquette he swished six 3s, yet also pulled down four rebounds and dished out three assists.

More critically, against the Musketeers, he used his shooting to help the Wildcats rally from an eight-point hole, scoring eight points in a 16-5 run that spanned the end of the first half and beginning of the second, yet he also contributed six defensive rebounds.

It was no surprise that Villanova won easily. Its recipe for success isn't terribly hard to decipher.

Jenkins was decidedly nonplussed with all of this, neither terribly worried about the games where his shot didn't go in, nor surprised that it did in the past two.

"Nah, I think they're all going in," he said with a smile. "And the only thing I have to live up to is my commitment to this team. That's the way it's been since I've been here."