For Cork-born 19-year-old Sean Jenkins, basketball has been his life for as long as he can remember.
It’s 10:15 in Spartanburg, South Carolina and Jenkins is in high spirits. He has good reason to be. Last week he received the news he’d been waiting for since the day his parents put a basketball in his hands.
“It’s unbelievable, I’m delighted, Division 1 has always been a goal of mine.”
Next season Jenkins will be playing in the upper echelon of college basketball after committing to NCAA Division 1 side Presbyterian College.
The 19-year old impressed throughout the campaign with Spartanburg High School, making a state All-Star team for a North vs South Carolina clash, while his recent standout displays at the Phenom Challenge tournament greatly aided his exposure in the state, leading to the D1 offer.
Jenkins was understandably delighted, but the Leesider unquestionably deserved the offer given the sacrifices he had to endure at such a tender age – the most important of which involved leaving his family and friends and coming to play in South Carolina two years ago.
Blessed to receive my first Division 1 offer from Presbyterian college❗️⚪️🔵 pic.twitter.com/iWAMFua3h8
— Sean Jenkins (@sean_sean10j) May 8, 2019
“I really wanted to go to America for fourth year but we didn’t think it was really the best idea, Jenkins told Pundit Arena.
“Then a scout in London wanted me to go over and there was a school in Washington that wanted me to go over there but nothing really jumped out at me that we saw.
“We waited and I stayed for fourth year and then I left in fifth year because my Dad got a really good opportunity where he lived which was Spartanburg. I came over which was a hard decision.
“I had to leave my family and my friends but they all knew that this is what I wanted to do. That this is my dream, they’ve known that since I was five years old so when I left it wasn’t a shock to them, they were prepared for it the whole the time.”
Before his move across the water, Jenkins was considered the hottest prospect in Irish basketball as he forged a memorable career at Cork side, Neptune.
“I’m blue until I die,” quips Jenkins at the mention of his former side.
He joined the club young and under their tutelage grew into one of Neptune’s finest assets, constantly playing above his age grade, such was the versatile shooting guard’s talents.
Jenkins worked his way up the ranks, and announced himself to the world with an U18s and U20s National Cup final MVP double, before following it up the next year with the same accolade in the Men’s Regional League final. All before his 18th birthday.
“We were very good, during my whole career with Neptune we always had very good players. When I was younger I wasn’t the main priority, I had to prove myself a lot.
“We always had a very good team, it was me and this other guy called Adam Drummond, me and him would always be the two best players and they would always bring us up a couple of age groups to play so when we were U12s or 13s we’d actually be playing with the 16s so I came up at a very young age.
“We won our first All-Ireland at U14s and then we won it at 16s again. We really started getting big when we won our first national cup at U18s and U20s and I got MVP in both finals and that was when it really started getting big for me.
“The next year, the year before I left, we won three national cups U18s, U20s and Men’s Regional League and I got MVP in the regional game so it really started getting big then.”
Hoop dreams may be unusual for a kid from Cork, but basketball is in Jenkins’ blood. His mother Angelene Myers, was a cornerstone of an impressive Brunell side while his father, Anthony Jenkins, also played NCAA D1 with Clemson University.
“Ever since I was born my parents put a basketball in my hand,” explained Jenkins.
“My Dad played Division 1 basketball with Clemson University, he actually played against Michael Jordan in college.
“My mam played basketball as well, she played with Brunell so they’ve had a basketball in my hand since I was very young and I haven’t let it go since.”
Basketball-mad Jenkins tried his hand at both GAA and hurling when he was younger but joked that it was solely down to his mother making him test other sporting waters.
“Growing up basketball was all I knew,” said Jenkins.
“I’ll be honest I did play other sports too. My Mam made me. She wanted me to see if I liked anything else. She knew that just because she liked basketball didn’t mean that I would, so I actually played GAA. I played hurling and Gaelic football.
“I wasn’t too bad at Gaelic football but I started to dislike hurling, I played soccer as well for a little bit and I ended up packing them all up at 14 years old so I just stayed true to basketball because that was all I wanted to do.”
Jenkins’ move to American college basketball is unusual, but the 19-year-old is far from an outlier.
Fellow Cork native Jordan Blount is entering his fourth year at UIC Flames, Dubliner’s John Carroll and Sean Flood are plying their trade with Hartford and Longwood respectively, while Aidan Harris will begin his college career with Louisville and is expected to be a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA draft.
Jenkins feels that the Irish representation proves how underrated the game is in this country.
The shooting guard uses the example of his Neptune team, outlining that had they been American and playing in the States, every player would have gotten scholarships.
“I was only saying this to my coach the other day, he was asking about the sport in Ireland but basketball in Ireland is so underrated it’s crazy.
“Right now I think there’s seven or eight Division 1 players from Ireland, we have a guy going to the NBA, Aidan Harris.
“We have the likes of Jordan Blount, Jordan Carroll, Sean Flood and obviously myself next year. Basketball in Ireland is so underrated and I love seeing people I know succeed and people from my country succeed because Ireland has been under the radar for so long.
“I always talk about it, my Neptune team that I was playing with, we were so good that if we had actually been from America and playing in America we would all have scholarships, but just because we’re from Ireland there’s no exposure or colleges that you get scholarships to.
“Just because we’re from Ireland you can’t really get anything and for us, we have to go to the States and prove ourselves.”
Jenkins’ Presbyterian offer is the culmination of the first of his two lifelong goals, but now that one has been achieved attention must turn to the other. The NBA.
The Cork native outlined that he models his game and mentality on Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and listening to him speak about his NBA ambitions the similarities are evident.
— Ryan Clary (@RyanClary1400) May 9, 2019
The prestigious NCAA tournament may await him in the future, so too might the dizzy heights of the sport’s very pinnacle. Time will tell.
Jenkins is confident as he recites the advice his new head coach has given him.
“Now that I’ve got my main goal that I’ve been trying to achieve for so long, my next goal is to try to make the NBA. That’s my next goal for sure. Nothing is impossible.
“I was talking to my head coach and he was telling me nothing is impossible. He wasn’t talking about me going to the NBA he was talking about our team going to the NCAA tournament, playing schools on national television.
“He said ‘nothing is impossible. I don’t care that we’re not a big school like Duke, we can still beat big schools like that because it’s happened in the past couple of years.’ Small Division 1 schools have beaten big Division 1 schools so my next goal for sure is do whatever is possible, work as hard as I can and try to get to the NBA.”