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Jenkins goes from underrated to highly rated

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"You know in these summer leagues, coaches always use ringers to help them win," Jenkins Sr. said. "So they thought Charles was a ringer. I got tired of having to argue with them that Charles was young enough to play, so I bring the certificate with me."Now a senior at Springfield Gardens, the 16-year-old Jenkins, who skipped third grade, is embroiled in yet another debate. Now that he has emerged as one of the top players in the city this season, pinpointing just when Jenkins went from good player to star has become fodder for conversation. His father thinks it happened in the playoffs last year when Jenkins, the team's 6-foot-3 point guard, averaged nearly a triple-double in two glorious games.His summer league coach, Roberto Diaz, believes Jenkins broke out (naturally) over the summer playing for his NYC Finest team. And Jason Curry, the president of Big Apple Basketball, thinks the transformation took place at a tournament he ran in early December when he scorched St. Raymond's for 36 points, six assists and five blocks Dec. 10 at Pace University in a 72-68 loss.Like a shooting star that travels quickly and unannounced through space, each was sure he was there for Jenkins' ascent.Perhaps no other player in the PSAL has engendered as much discussion about the origins of his talents as Jenkins, whose dazzling play has pulled Springfield Gardens into a first place tie with Campus Magnet in Queens III-A."We have a good team this year," said Jenkins, a resident of Rosedale. "Hopefully, we can go further than we did last year."Last season Jenkins often deferred to his good friend and partner in the backcourt Melvin Clarida, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard. But with Clarida attending prep school and a first-year coach in Angelo Buono at the helm, Jenkins has been thrust into a leadership role. Jenkins has responded by averaging 21 points, seven assists and four rebounds a game while leading the Golden Eagles to a record of 7-1 and 5-0 in the conference."When I first saw him last year in the playoffs, I couldn't believe he was only a junior," said Curry, who watched Jenkins pour in 19 points, 12 assists and six rebounds against Frederick Douglass in the second round of the playoffs. "Physically, he was built like a senior, and I couldn't believe how composed he was out there. He was by far the best player on the court and Frederick Douglass was one of the better teams in the city last year. The main reason I invited Springfield Gardens to participate in the Big Apple Basketball Challenge [against St. Raymond's] was because of Charles. I didn't know about the new coach or about their record. I knew about Charles Jenkins, period."Every year the city anoints a player as a Cinderella story - someone who rises from the ashes to have a surprise impact in the league. Last year it was Flushing's Vernon Teel; this year the darling of the hoops cognoscente appears to be Jenkins.So enamored was Curry that he contacted an assistant at Liberty University, a Division I school in the Big South conference to tell him about Jenkins.Word of his performance against St. Raymond's spread like wildfire and soon Jenkins was finding attention in unlikely places. Ed Pinckney, the former Villanova standout and an assistant coach at the school heard about him from St. Raymond's coach Oliver Antigua and was planning to visit Springfield Gardens before the transit strike scuttled those plans, Curry said.A former player at Springfield Gardens, Norm Roberts, the men's basketball coach at St. John's, attended a game against Van Buren Dec. 14, causing a stir with his appearance and scaring half the players to death who got word of his arrival earlier in the day. Curry also spoke with an assistant from Boston College who inquired about Jenkins."I was hot [against St. Raymond's], and when I'm hot I'll keep shooting the ball," Jenkins said. "My reputation definitely grew after the St. Raymond's game. No one really ever saw me before. Now I have colleges calling my house and approaching me. Curry's tournament really put me out there. Before then, nobody really noticed me. That was a big game, and I figured if I played well it would get me some attention."As an 8-year-old, Jenkins was instructed by his father, a coach in Rosedale's Impact Basketball League, to pass first and shoot second, a habit that has stuck with him to this day. While his unselfish play has endeared him to his teammates, it may have obscured his ability to score points. Known for being a slick floor leader but not necessarily a threat from the outside, Jenkins worked overtime this summer to improve his speed and shooting and the results have been impressive. "He's so unselfish, sometimes I have to get him to shoot more," Buono said. "Sometimes you wondered if he had the ability to take over the game. He showed that he could against St. Raymond's. He showed that he was an elite player."Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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