Is destiny calling for UTSA? Jenkins says, ‘It’s our year’

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins understands as well as anyone that hard work sets the table for any type of success that a basketball team might attain.

Jordyn Jenkins. UTSA beat Florida Atlantic 77-61 in Conference USA women's basketball on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA forward Jordyn Jenkins has a good feeling about her team’s chances in the AAC tournament. – File photo by Joe Alexander

Same goes for individual success.

For instance, she didn’t just roll out of bed one day and become the 2023 Conference USA Player of the Year.

She didn’t just snap her fingers after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury on her right knee last April and say that, hey, she would be fine physically as her teammates prepared in summer conditioning to transition into the American Athletic Conference.

It took hours and hours in rehabilitation last summer before Jenkins could even get back on the court to practice her shot.

And then there was the strengthening and conditioning, all of which kept her out of games this season until late February.

No, Jenkins is wise to the way that the game works as the fourth-seeded Roadrunners prepare to play the South Florida Bulls today in the AAC quarterfinals.

Then again, she also has a thought or two about intangibles.

Destiny, for instance.

Is it destiny that the Roadrunners might be in line to win some games and perhaps an AAC title this week?

How else to explain events of last week, the second to last day of the regular season for the Roadrunners.

Jammed in a six-way tie for fourth place, UTSA needed a victory at home against the Rice Owls and a lot of help to pull down the No. 4 seed and a double-bye into the tournament.

How much help? Let’s just say that they needed a number of outcomes in games played around the conference to have a shot.

But, just as the Roadrunners built a double-digit lead on the Owls in the second half, the basketball gods started to shine on them.

First, the Charlotte 49ers lost. Then, the UAB Blazers also lost. With officials scrambling to sort out the final equation, the Memphis Tigers were trailing late in a game Denton to the North Texas Mean.

Then it happened. As UTSA players stood at midcourt after defeating Rice, 60-52, they learned that Memphis also had lost at North Texas. And that, from all indications, that they had secured the No. 4 seed.

Even as fans oblivious to the big picture cheered, the sounds of UTSA players shouting about their good fortune could be heard over all the other noise.

A few days later, I asked Jenkins sort of a convoluted question. I asked her about so many dominoes having to fall for them to get the fourth seed and the double-bye, is it possible that something special is in the cards for UTSA this year?

“Honestly, yeah,” Jenkins said. “After we beat Rice and coach told us we might end up being the fourth seed, it was kind of like, it was meant to happen.

“Even though we had a lot of ups and downs this year, I’ve always felt like this was our year. Even when I was out and even now, I feel like it’s ours to win. And, like, we can do it. Getting that fourth place makes me feel like it’s going to happen.”

She said her own road back to playing in games has been a journey. Initially, it was a shock to learn about the injury’s severity.

“I’m just grateful for our staff and everyone who has been helping me, my teammates. Yea, it’s been a lot of long days in rehab and working out,” she said. “But I wanted to be here and I wanted to play, and I love this team. Yeah, it feels good to play with them, finally.”

Anyone who has been around the Roadrunners knows how much Jenkins loves to play in games. So, when the season started and she couldn’t play, she said she had to rely heavily on those around her.

“There were a lot of days of me being around here, long days, just being surrounded by my team,” she said. “My athletic trainer (Tam Nguyen) and my coaches. They put up with me a lot, even though I may sometimes have a bad attitude.

“But they put up with me and they want what’s best for me. I’ve seen a lot of support towards me. And I recognize that people care about me. I want to make people proud. I want to do them proud. It just feels good to try to return the favor, I guess, and just do everything I can for the sport.”

Regardless, when the medical staff cleared her to play, she had a decision to make. Did she want to play only part of a season? Or, would it be best to save the eligibility and try next season?

“It was mainly about me and how I felt,” she said. “I didn’t want to take any chances or any risks. I did what my body felt like was right to do. I came back on limited minutes and everyone was very careful, just (to) make sure my safety was priority. You know, things have been working out.

“And, I’ve always wanted to play. I feel like if I’m able to play, why not?”

Jenkins smiled when she was reminded that, before the season, during her rehabilitation, that she predicted she would play.

“You know, I wanted to, and basketball is my life,” she said. “I want to win and I want to be here for this team, and I think I’m doing just that.”

Jenkins was a dominant force last year, averaging 20.6 points and shooting close to 50 percent from the field. Last year, it wasn’t unusual to see her out-running guards down the floor, catching long passes and shooting uncontested layups.

This year, it’s been a little different, as she has come off the bench averaging only 20 minutes a game. In that reduced time, she’s still been effective, averaging a team-best 14.5 points and also 7.5 rebounds.

UTSA coach Karen Aston said Jenkins is “in great shape” and praised the training staff for its work during rehabilitation.

“They did a great job in getting her in physical condition (to play),” the coach said. “It’s just game mode, getting used to how teams, you know, one team will play her one way. One will play her that way. If you’ve been away from the game that long, it’s something mentally that you have to get used to.”

Asked about the importance of Jenkins staying engaged with team activities during her comeback, from a team standpoint, Aston said it was more important for Jenkins to do that for herself.

“Injured players have a difficult time feeling engaged,” she said. “I think for her, she would tell you, she had a lot of dark times. Injuries are tough, especially if you came off the year she had last year … (but) staying engaged, for her, was important.”

Even though roles for other individuals on the team changed somewhat following her return, Aston said players have adjusted.

“Our team has an understanding that Jordyn has a real passion for the game,” Aston said. “She loves playing basketball. She loves the competition. The camaraderie. So it’s hard not to welcome back someone who loves the game as much as she does.”

With Jenkins, it’s clear that she understands how the game works. How playing the game requires certain sacrifices. How winning requires chemistry and camaraderie. In that regard, it’s also fun to learn that in spite of all the painstaking realities of preparation for a championship run, that she also believes in things like destiny.

Just as we ended our conversation the other day, I had to ask her about it again. She responded with a smiled and a compelling notion. “It’s our year. It’s our year.”

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