76ers

Villanova's Kris Jenkins is ready for whatever road leads to NBA

CAMDEN, N.J — Kris Jenkins looked like he was just happy to be there. Even after a disappointing end to his iconic career in which the three-point assassin failed to make a triple in an early NCAA Tournament exit, the smile and the swagger he carried with him during four years at Villanova didn't fade.

It's part of why they call him "Big Smoove." 

He's the one who made "the shot" and one-third of the best class in Villanova basketball history. They lost one game on campus. They beat every Big 5 team they faced. They won four Big East regular-season titles, two Big East Tournament titles and one national championship.

Yet all of that means very little now. Jenkins, who worked out for the Sixers at their training complex Tuesday, will have an uphill battle in his upcoming NBA quest. He comes from a Villanova program that, despite its national prominence, does not regularly churn out NBA players. His game is largely dominated by his ability to hit from deep and his weight has always been a concern. He will need to perform at a higher level than he did on the Main Line to make it in the Association.

"If that means forgetting about one shot and bringing it up 12 years from now," Jenkins said, "I can do that."

Jenkins' ability to shoot has never been in question. He made 37 percent of the 708 threes he hoisted up during his career, and it will be the skill that keeps him around on any team in the future. He'll likely need to bump that percentage up a bit to play at the highest level for long.

But he said he's not just a shooter.

If that's true, he'll need to add reliability on the other end. At Villanova, he had Big East co-defensive players of the year in Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges alongside him. In the NBA, he will have less room for mistakes. Jahlil Okafor can give you an example of how people feel about defensive liabilities.

"The question is, for him, is whether he's going to be able to shoot it at an elite level and defend the position," Brandon Williams, the Sixers' vice president of basketball administration and general manager of the Delaware 87ers, said.

That doesn't mean Jenkins, who grew up in Maryland and has known presumed Sixers' first-round pick Markelle Fultz for years, can't find a place. He looked lighter Tuesday than he had recently, and, in his words, "was in the right positions" defensively and "contested every shot." Williams recognized that any lapses in the three-on-three games he participated in don't matter for much. Five-on-five is where they draw judgement. 

Unless a team unexpectedly loves him, Jenkins will go undrafted Thursday night. That's when what Williams called the "third round" will begin. The Sixers will get a chance to sign undrafted free agents, who will then try to prove their worth in the summer league.

On the other end will be three options: the spot on an NBA bench, an opportunity to develop in the G-League or the door. 

The third option leads to more immediate money overseas, but the second extends a chance for the ultimate goal. Should it come to deciding between the two, it sounded like Jenkins' choice is already made.

"I would go wherever the best opportunity is for me to play at the highest level, which is to play in the NBA," Jenkins said. "That's always the dream, that's always been the dream, and it will continue to be the dream no matter what road I have to take."

Last year, Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono failed to make the cut for the Spurs' roster but stayed with the organization's affiliate in Austin. His classmate, Daniel Ochefu, made the Wizards. Class of 2015 product Darrun Hilliard has been up and down with the Pistons. Reggie Redding, a member of Villanova's 2009 Final Four team, has done well in Europe.

The Wildcats' presence is on all levels.

"I've talked to a bunch of those guys and they're all in great situations and they're happy," Jenkins said. "At the end of the day, you want to be somewhere where you're happy."

And for now, with a chance to bring that "smoove" shot and smile to a new team, Jenkins seems to be just that.