Despite the Western Mustangs men's basketball team's tough 1–7 start to the 2016–17 season, the program has a bright future with a number of young stars in the making contributing to a team on the rise.
But the rebuilding effort has been centred around Eriq Jenkins. The second-year criminology major at King's and transfer from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, he has been the go-to scorer and defender through the first half of the Mustangs' season.
Jenkins grew up in Windsor and played basketball under legendary high school coach Peter Cusumano at Catholic Central High School. Catholic Central, one of the top high school basketball programs in the province with three Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAA gold medals, was the perfect stomping ground for Jenkins.
“It was pretty intense playing high school basketball at CCH," said Jenkins. "Great competition in Windsor all around, people who went on to play Division I ball and overseas and it helped me bring out my game to play in college. It was a great stepping stone.”
Recruited by schools like Brock, Western and York in high school, Jenkins was set to play for his hometown Windsor Lancers program before Le Moyne College, an NCAA Division II school, came calling.
“I just wanted to get away from home, experience the college life," said Jenkins on his decision to play at Le Moyne. "And then it was a great experience over there just seeing what the competition was like.”
Jenkins enjoyed his time at Le Moyne, a private Jesuit school, but decided to return to Canada due to family issues. He decided on Western so that he was close enough to Windsor for his grandfather to come watch him play. According to Mustangs fourth-year co-captain Eric McDonald, Jenkins has fit perfectly with his new team.
"He's a great team guy and he fit in with the group right away," said McDonald. "As an older player on the team, it's pretty cool when you see the younger guys forming good relationships so you know you're leaving the team in good hands. When you have good people like [Jenkins] it helps make the team even closer which definitely translates to the court."
Despite the tough 1–7 start the Mustangs have endured, Jenkins has been consistent on both ends of the court. He has averaged 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while establishing himself as the team's top defender.
According to head coach Brad Campbell, Jenkins will be an important part of the Mustangs program for years to come as the team looks to join the ranks of Ontario's elite.
"The thing with [Jenkins] is steady improvement as well and I think from a scoring standpoint it’s gonna improve but also some other aspects of his game, like rebounding and defense and leadership will be a real key for us moving forward,” Campbell said.
McDonald believes it's Jenkins' defence that sets him apart. His heart and determination make him a great example for his teammates on how to get back and hustle on the defensive end.
"I think he's been great so far and he's definitely helped set the tone on the defensive end," said McDonald. "He's usually the first line of defence in our zone and the energy he brings there is a big reason we usually end the game with more steals than the other team. When he's playing aggressive on ball defence it usually leads to more run outs and easy buckets in transition."
Jenkins is happy with his choice to return to Canada and is excited for the future of the program. But he expects more from himself if the program is to take that next step.
“I’ve played pretty well," said Jenkins. "I’m holding myself to a high standard so I think I could play a lot better than I’ve shown so far, so hopefully I can pick it up in the second half of the year.”
The program is in good hands with Jenkins, Shiddo, Farkic, Smart, Alex Otzyv, Dominic Clayton and Tyler Thomson forming a core of future Mustangs standouts. The 1–7 start is less than ideal, but considering how close the Mustangs have been in four of those losses the feeling around the program is that success will come, in time. And with athletes like Jenkins in the program that sentiment is easy to share.
“The first half of the season hasn’t been that great and we’ve lost a lot of games that we should’ve won," said Jenkins. "But we’re a really young team, we have Eric [McDonald] in his fifth year and everyone else is young and we’ll be really good in the years to come. Then we have a guy like Tyler [Thompson], who's hurt right now, and Dom [Clayton] playing so well so we definitely have a great future."