Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Lobo hoops: Reserve guard Jenkins voted co-captain

Lobo guard KJ Jenkins shoots a 3-pointer over Denver’s Jordan Johnson on Dec. 9, 2021, in the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)
There’s been plenty of chatter around Lobo basketball since the team last walked off the court in March at the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Media and fans have been buzzing largely about one of two primary story lines: The return of two all-league guards and the addition of two veteran front-court players tasked with shifting the Lobos’ identity from soft and small to big and physical.

Maybe you’ve also heard about the promising freshman Donovan Dent, voted the 2022 Mr. California en route to leading his nationally ranked high school to another state championship.

Not much, if any, talk has been about senior guard KJ Jenkins. At least not by those outside the Lobo locker room.

The 6-foot-2 senior guard from Georgia this week was voted by his teammates co-captain for the coming season along with junior Jamal Mashburn Jr.

“It’s a blessing,” Jenkins said. He was quick to thank his teammates for the honor, but was quick to add that “I believe there’s way more than two captains on this team.”

Jenkins is, in fact, the team’s third-leading returning scorer, having come off the bench to average 9.8 points in fewer than 23 minutes per game.

But more important, he and Mashburn have led the charge in terms of leadership in the offseason – at least so say his teammates.

Pitino said the vote was “overwhelming” for Jenkins and Mashburn to wear the symbolic “C” on their jersey.

But what does that actually mean?

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It depends on the team, Pitino said.

“I have had some teams where the captains matter. I’ve had some teams where the leadership comes from somewhere else,” Pitino said. “I think that Mash and KJ – it doesn’t surprise me. Those two guys are all business every single day. They’re all about getting better, working hard, winning.

“… I think as you build a program, it’s got to be less about the coach’s voices and more about the voices in the locker room. And so, hopefully, KJ and Mash can lead the way in that.”

A willing vocal leader, even as a non-starter last season, Jenkins said his role as a leader actually has less to do with his interactions with teammates and more to do with how he handles his own business.

“I believe you gotta hold yourself accountable. You know, to a daily standard,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got to show up every day knowing what to get out of yourself but (also) knowing what you can get the most out of your teammates. … You just gotta remind yourself that you got to keep going and that these other dudes know that you’re a leader, someone they look up to.”

SCRIMMING TIME: The Lobos face Northern Arizona in the Pit on Saturday in a scrimmage not open to the media or fans, per NCAA rules.

The controlled-scrimmage setup allows for coaches to arrange specific scenarios if they choose, but Pitino said the teams will just play a normal, 40-minute game with 20-minute halves and referees.

While more players will see the court Saturday than in an actual game, Pitino noted now is the time when players start seeing who is at the top of the rotation and who is not. The coaching staff, Pitino said, looks forward to seeing what they learn from that.

“We work with these guys so long in the summer, even in the spring after the season, and summer and then fall, and everybody’s feeling good,” Pitino said. “It all changes once the minutes get passed out.

“Everybody’s not gonna play the same. … How do you respond and handle it? That’s as important as anything else.”

INJURY FRONT: Senior Emmanuel Kuac, who broke his left leg during the Lobos’ Jan. 8 game against Utah State in the Pit, has started incorporating some contact into his practices, though has not yet reached 100% clearance from doctors.

It shouldn’t be much longer, Pitino says, before Kuac is fully cleared.

Sophomore center Sebastian Forsling was held out of Thursday’s practice after a recent concussion. The 7-footer from Sweden missed some practice time earlier in the month while sick, then suffered the concussion.

He was still at practice Thursday talking with media, teammates and coaches with his usual huge smile and good nature, just not participating on the court.

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