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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Neither one remembers how long they’ve known each other or when they first met.
It just seems like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins have always been friends.
Hart and Jenkins, the top two scorers on the Villanova powerhouse that takes a 31-5 record into the South Regional semifinals this week, both grew up in suburban Washington, D.C., both played high school basketball in the District of Columbia, both were heavily recruited by Division I schools around the country and both wound up at Villanova.
They faced each other once in high school — “Josh’s team won,” Jenkins said. “His team wasn’t the better team, but they won that day.”
But mainly they crossed paths on the AAU circuit, the recruiting trail and the schoolyards and gyms where the most talented kids gathered to shoot hoops.
“We knew each other pretty well, grew up in the same area, both went to school in D.C.,” Jenkins said. “We always had a great relationship. I don't know how long I knew about him. I just always knew about Josh Hart."
Hart grew up in Silver Spring, Md., and played high school hoops at Sidwell Friends in northwestern Washington. Jenkins grew up in Upper Marlboro, Md., about 25 miles east of Washington and played hoops at Gonzaga College High in downtown Washington, about five miles from Sidwell Friends.
“He was the same kind of player in high school,” Jenkins said. “Played extremely hard, extremely aggressive, strong going to the basket. Overall just a great player.”
These two swing forwards from the D.C. area, along with forward Darryl Reynolds, were the centerpieces of Jay Wright’s Class of 2017 recruiting class, a group that has a remarkable 93-13 record in three years so far on the Main Line.
No school in Division I has a higher winning percentage over the past three years.
Their careers have really paralleled each other, too. Hart and Jenkins were both subs as freshmen, both got significant playing time last year off the bench as sophomores, and they have raised their game to remarkable heights this year for a Villanova team that was ranked No. 1 in the country for three weeks and is the No. 2 seed in the South Region.
Both are in the 6-5, 6-6 neighborhood, both have worked hard to become very good defenders, both are career 38 percent shooters from three-point range, both run the floor and both are willing rebounders.
Hart emerged as an all-conference type of player first and was so good last year in the Big East Tournament he actually became the first guy in tournament history to win MVP honors off the bench.
Jenkins, who has the knack for taking over games by burying multiple threes in a short period of time, over the past month has taken his offensive game to another level and is actually the Wildcats’ leading scorer since mid-January.
“It's been great having someone that you know from back home who’s going through the same struggles and same positive moments as you,” Hart said.
“It's been great having him right there, talking to me when I'm down, talking to me when I'm up. He had a little part when he was struggling. Now you see him breaking through and giving everything to the team. To see that, for me, it's just rewarding.
“If you come in to Villanova by yourself, if you go into any college by yourself, how are you going to be able to handle everything that’s going on? There’s crazy ups and downs in college. You might have problems with your coach. You might not be playing well, You might not be getting minutes.
“To have that person who you’re familiar with, who you knew before you got to school, from the same area, it gives you that much more confidence in everything. You rely on each other so much.
“Darryl is with us too, part of our junior class, and us three are probably one of the closest classes they’ve ever had at Villanova. To have people like that to go through the struggles with you, to go through the positives time as well, it’s just a great feeling and I feel like it’s something that everybody has to have.”
Hart and Jenkins found themselves during the 2011-2012 high school season being recruited by a lot of the same schools.
“Yeah, we both had Xavier, Rutgers, Miami, Penn State,” Jenkins said. “A lot of the same schools.
“We definitely talked about a lot during the recruiting process. We were going through the same thing.
“I committed first so I was always trying to get him to come on board. Maybe I should take up coaching because I’m pretty good at recruiting.”
Villanova is two wins from the Final 4. The Wildcats open play in the Sweet 16 at 7:10 p.m. Thursday when they face No. 3 Miami at the KFC Yum! Center. The winner will face the Maryland-Kansas winner.
Although Ryan Arcidiacono is clearly the leader of this Villanova team and fellow senior Daniel Ochefu might be their most important player, Jenkins and Hart are as big for this team as anybody.
Hart is Villanova’s leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, but over the last 20 games, Jenkins leads the Wildcats in scoring at 16.3 points per game. Over the last 10, he’s at 19.5.
“Coming in, this guy was a prolific offensive weapon,” Hart said. “He came in and he had to score, he had to get buckets, that’s how he was going to help the team out, that’s the reason why he was frustrated at times.
“But now you see he’s scoring, but he’s doing everything else too. Now he’s the loudest guy in warmups: ‘We have to rebound, we have to defend, we have to play Villanova basketball.’ If you come out 90 minutes before a game, you see us warming up, you see us stretching, he’s the loudest person.
“He’s really adopted that Villanova basketball mindset and that’s how the last 10, 15 games he’s just been incredible. He’s not worried about himself as a scorer anymore and he’s taken his total game to another level.”
Either Jenkins or Hart has been Villanova’s scoring leader in 27 of 36 games this year.
Hart has 1,186 career points and Jenkins has 847.
Think about it: Together they’ve lost just 13 of 106 games in a Villanova uniform.
They're 48-6 in the Big East.
“It's been great to have somebody like him here to go through everything with,” Hart said. “Our relationship has gotten stronger, and it's something that will carry on even when we graduate. I’m just very thankful for it.”