During his three years of varsity, Javon Jenkins was never the headline guy for the Nottingham High boys’ basketball team.
He was something much more important.
“The one word that I will always remember Javon by is ‘winner,’” Northstars coach Chris Raba said.
He then went on to recite those winning qualities.
“In three years of (varsity) basketball, he won 61 games, a state championship and a county tournament championship,” the coach continued. “He played in two Mercer County Tournament finals, and won a Tournament of Champions game. He is also a member of our legendary track team running four events (100, 200, 4×100, 4×200).”
But it doesn’t end on the athletic field.
“Javon is a very good student,” Raba said. “He has a 3.7 grade point average. He has been a tremendous role model for the younger student-athletes at Nottingham. Javon has not only been a leader on the basketball court but also in the classroom.”
Jenkins’ basketball career concluded when Nottingham lost to Allentown in the NJSIAA Group III Central quarterfinals, ending the Northstars’ season at 22-7.
But Jenkins’ education is far from over. He wants to major in business and accounting, and is looking at St. Peter’s, Monmouth and New Jersey City State.
“I’d like to be an accountant,” Jenkins said. “I took a class in school, and it just interested me.”
Ironic, in a way, since his own personal numbers did not matter to Jenkins on the basketball court. He only cared about the digits on the scoreboard and in the win column.
As the third Jenkins brother to play basketball for Nottingham, “Javon comes from a family of winners,” Raba said. Jamir Jenkins was a senior on Raba’s first Nottingham team and that same year he was a key player for the Northstars CJ III sectional state championship team.
“I was very fortunate to have him my first year at Nottingham,” Raba said. “He was a tremendous player, and everyone looked up to him.”
Next came James, who “was another very good athlete and a great kid.”
Jamir and James were Javon’s competition early in life and they showed him no mercy during the family basketball games. That just made him better when he got to Nottingham.
“I played them when I was little but I never remember if I won or not because I was still so young,” he said. “I know they were tough on me. It just brought my competitive nature out of me, made me show my toughness to other guys, let them know I won’t give up.”
When he wasn’t playing against his brothers, Jenkins was watching them play for the Northstars.
“I was at mostly every game,” he said. “I knew from a young age, seeing them always play basketball and football that I wanted to be in sports. That’s what made me want to play basketball.”
After playing in Cook AA and Hamilton PAL, Jenkins made the Northstars JV team as a freshman and felt that was a productive learning year.
“It taught me a lot,” Jenkins said. “My coach (Brandon Johnson) really coached me hard to be a great point guard and it showed at the varsity level.”
Jenkins made the jump to varsity as a sophomore and, although he saw limited minutes, he was on the inner circle on one of the greatest basketball teams in Colonial Valley Conference history. Nottingham went 30-3 that year, winning the county and state titles and a Tournament of Champions game.
Jenkins played in just 18 games, usually when the outcome was decided, but he was one of the guys who pushed the talented varsity players in practice. And he continued to learn from star seniors Darell Johnson, Cliff Joseph and Richie Jones.
“What I took from that year was leadership and what it takes to be in big games and I just showed it in my senior year,” Jenkins said. “They were a good group of guys, always helped me out. I still keep in touch with them.”
Despite his lack of playing time, he felt the same joy as the starters when Nottingham hoisted the state trophy at Rutgers.
“It felt great because even though you’re not playing a lot, you’re still part of the team,” Jenkins said. “I just can’t describe the feeling.”
It was a whole different feeling the next year. With all the frontline talent gone, Jenkins was thrust into the role of regular along with Raba’s son, Brandon, who also saw limited time during the championship year.
Jenkins played all 25 games in a 9-16 season and averaged 8.5 points.
“It was OK last year,” he said. “I still had a lot of learning to do, adjusting to the game and seeing how it really is. Getting full minutes is just different, just the way you have to prepare for it.”
This year he returned as the Stars’ lone senior and was expected to lead the way along with Brandon Raba. There was an issue, however, and it was one of the season’s best-kept secrets. Jenkins suffered from a nagging, high ankle sprain that he never brought up.
“Javon is a very quiet, reserved person,” Raba said. “He was hurt all season. We weren’t even sure what games he would be able to play. The practice before every game we had no idea if he would play or not. That lasted every day the whole season. (Trainer) Sam Quinette did a magnificent job rehabbing him every day. He was like a silent assassin.”
Jenkins started the season in his usual role of guarding the opposition’s best wing player and Raba said he embraced the challenge and became an excellent defensive player.
“I like playing defense, it starts off the energy,” Jenkins said. “You get a couple plays on defense and that’s where the energy comes from.”
Raba noted that with Jenkins and Nazir Collins (the team’s unsung hero) doggedly guarding the other team’s top two offensive players for 32 minutes, it wore them down and allowed Nottingham to win numerous games in the final minutes.
Things change, however. When Josh Morrison went down in the 14th game with a season-ending injury, the situation looked grim. Morrison was the team’s second leading scorer and best 3-point shooter. Sitting at 10-4, Nottingham was ahead of its coach’s timetable but appeared to be in trouble with the injury.
The Stars lost their first game without Morrison and whispers throughout the CVC were that the Northstars were done.
Nottingham won 11 straight before falling to Trenton Catholic Academy in the MCT finals, then won a state tournament game before the season ended against Allentown.
It was a huge team effort but Jenkins was a huge force behind the push. After averaging 8.1 points in the season’s first 17 games, he averaged 14.1 over the final 12, including a career-high 29 in his career-finale against the Redbirds.
“He became more aggressive offensively,” Raba said. “Everyone’s role immediately changed, and the ball was in his hands more and he became more confident every game. He had to learn how to make the right reads in our offense, whether he could get all the way to the basket, or to drive and kick to an open shooter. That just takes time, and confidence.”
Jenkins became apt at finding his way through defenses down the stretch, constantly getting to the hoop for inside buckets despite a 5-foot-8 frame.
“I always had the ability to score,” Jenkins said. “With me it was my confidence. Once I got that confidence to score it became easier to me. I knew as the only senior, I had to be the guy to step up, I had to give senior leadership, bring it into games and show these guys.”
In looking back on his career, Jenkins called it “an amazing ride” and wished he had another three years to play.
Raba felt the same.
“He was respected by everyone,” the coach said. “We may only be losing Javon next year from our basketball team, but what he brought to our team as a complete-student athlete will never be replaced.”