February 21, 2011
Immediately after learning at Sunday's practice that he had a meeting with athletic director Jack Hayes the following morning, Hofstra guard Charles Jenkins started preparing for the worst.
The previous two times Jenkins met with Hayes, the athletic director notified him last spring that longtime coach Tom Pecora was leaving for Fordham and that newly hired coach Tim Welsh had resigned in the wake of a DUI. As a result, Jenkins feared he'd find out Monday that first-year coach Mo Cassara was on his way out too.
He asked teammates what they knew about the meeting, but they insisted they had heard nothing. He quizzed trainers and assistant coaches, but they told him they were clueless too. Finally, after a sleepless night, Jenkins knocked on Hayes' door, sat in the same chair he had the other two meetings and discovered ... Hofstra plans to retire his No. 22 jersey on Saturday.
"I woke up this morning thinking that maybe coach Mo was leaving or that I was going to get some bad news, so this was definitely something I'll never forget," a sheepish Jenkins said by phone. "Usually I have members of the staff that tell me everything when I ask. This time I was telling everyone, 'I've got to meet Mr. Hayes. I wonder what it's about. I wonder what he wants from me.' Well I come to find out that everyone knew but me."
Hofstra decided to retire Jenkins' jersey on Senior Day because it's a fitting honor for a kid who has been the face of the program the past four years. Jenkins, the school's all-time leading scorer, ranks fifth in the nation at 23.3 points per game this season and is the front-runner to win Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year honors.
It's difficult to evaluate exactly how uncommon it is for an active player to have his jersey hang from the rafters, but it's safe to say it's pretty unusual. No other Hofstra athlete in any sport has received the same honor, though Wake Forest's Tim Duncan and Duke's Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill all had their jerseys retired before their last home games.
"I think it's very rare," Cassara said by phone. "We have 25 other athletes that have had their numbers retired here at Hofstra, but none of them have ever been retired while they were still here at their last games. He's been such an integral part of this university on so many levels that we thought that was the highest honor we could give him."
Saturday's ceremony will be the culmination of Jenkins' gradual rise from troubled kid to overlooked prospect to college star.
Distraught after his older brother, Kareem, was shot and killed in Brooklyn, Jenkins was expelled from school as a high school freshman. He eventually turned his life around at Springfield Gardens High in Queens, becoming an honor-roll student and earning a basketball scholarship to Hofstra.
Jenkins chose his No. 22 jersey because that was how old his brother was when he died. Before every Hofstra game, he'll tweet a message to his brother such as "Every game I'm relaxed and at peace because (you're) watching."
Real-life adversity like that made the coaching tumult of last spring a lot easier for Jenkins to handle by comparison. Despite having three coaches in less than two months as a result of the resignations of Pecora and Welsh, the Pride (18-10, 12-4) are in a tie for second place in the CAA and still harbor dreams of a surprise run in the conference tournament next month.
"It shows how mature we are," Jenkins said. "The hardest part of all the coaching changes was off the court. When we got on the court, we had opportunities to block out all the negative stuff and take out all our frustrations on the opposing team."
One of the proudest moments of Jenkins' senior season came Monday morning when he shared the news about his jersey being retired with his mother and father, both of whom were at practice to speak with the local media.
"Once I told her, my mom just burst into tears because she was so happy," Jenkins said. "It was a great feeling. I've seen my mom very upset with the passing of my brother. To have her cry but tears of joy, it's definitely something I'll never forget."
Follow Jeff Eisenberg on Twitter at @jeffeisenberg