When Jasmine Jenkins first joined the East Hall girls basketball team as a freshman, coach Joey Rider told her that, whether she was ready or not, she’d have to be a leader.
Because of her abilities, he said, the program would follow her.
As a senior this season, Jenkins was able to embrace that role and help her team achieve a goal it had been pursuing for four years.
“A region championship has been our goal since she’s been here,” Rider said. “And she helped make it happen.”
As a senior, Jenkins averaged 16.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2 steals per game. For her efforts, she has been named The Times Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
Jenkins knew things would be different in her senior season as compared to the others. While she had let her play speak for itself over the first three years on the team, she was looked to as a more vocal leader in her final season as well.
“Being a senior comes with more responsibility,” Jenkins said. “It’s tough to balance out being a leader and playing. The other years I was just playing.”
Despite the difficulty, however, Jenkins responded well, even in the face of adversity.
“I feel like I accepted the challenge,” she said. “I was the best leader I could be on and off the court. I’m a firm believer in character, and I hope I made an impact on the younger players with that.”
From the outset, Jenkins’ senior season was marred by difficulty.
Suffering from a severely sprained ankle, she was faced with the decision of whether to sit out or to keep playing despite the injury.
The choice wasn’t really all that difficult.
“I felt like we had a chance to do something that I had always wanted to do,” Jenkins said, referring to the region championship. “I knew I’d be letting my team down if I didn’t play. I wanted to be a part of something big.”
Rider said that part of the reason she kept playing is because she lives for the big moments. She’s prepared for those moments, he said, because of her relentless work ethic.
“She comes up big because she works so hard for those moments,” he said. “She feels like she’s earned the opportunity, so she doesn’t panic. This kid works harder than any I’ve ever seen.”
The work started when she was in fifth grade. She was originally a soccer fanatic, but began playing basketball.
“It just stuck,” Jenkins said. “I love the competitiveness and the pace of the game. I love the challenges of every game and every practice.”
East Hall teammate Morgan Jackson was on her first team in fifth grade. Since then, they have developed a chemistry that has helped them make a habit of outplaying their opponents.
Jenkins is the ball-handling specialist. She was called on to score more in her senior season, but Rider said that she is a point guard in the truest sense of the term. Meanwhile, Jackson posts up, taking feeds from Jenkins and pouring in buckets.
“They compliment each other so well, because they’ve played together for so long,” Rider said. “They understand each other. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so they have great chemistry on the court.”
Jenkins echoed Rider’s words.
“It all starts with chemistry,” she said of the dangerous duo. “We push each other and encourage each other. We’re always there to pick each other up.”
For Jenkins, the biggest moment of the season, and perhaps her entire high school career, came in the region championship.
Seconds away from coming up just short against North Oconee, Jenkins proved she was ready for the big moment.
Trailing by two points with eight seconds on the clock, she raced all the way down the court, laid the ball in and drew a foul. She knocked down the free throw to take the lead and give the Lady Vikings that signature win they had been looking for.
“I’ve always had the confidence,” she said. “I want to get after any challenge. I just put myself out there and are vulnerable.
“I’m always thinking: How are we going to win this game? You think about what you want to happen, and then you get after it.”
The next challenge for Jenkins to tackle will be at Vanderbilt University, where she has signed to play basketball.
Rider expects her to meet that challenge as she has the others.
“I know this: She’s going to be the hardest working kid there,” he said.