'Nova freshmen Hart and Jenkins make their mark

Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, a Neshaminy graduate, gets ready to go.
Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, a Neshaminy graduate, gets ready to go.
Posted: March 21, 2014

BUFFALO - Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins got to know each other playing high school and AAU basketball in the Washington area. Jenkins committed first to Villanova and persuaded Hart to join him, and the pair embarked on a freshman year trying to fit in on a team that figured to be pretty good.

Well, the Wildcats exceeded "pretty good," rising to No. 3 in the national rankings and earning a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. They enter their opening East Regional game Thursday night against No. 15 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a 28-4 record.

And Hart and Jenkins have become cogs in the Wildcats' nine-man rotation that has worn down opposing teams with tough play and relentless energy.

"They've become a big part of our rotation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said Thursday before his team hit the floor at the First Niagara Center for an open practice.

"Josh had a little bit of a slump in the middle of the year and then toward the end of the year came on strong again. He's been a great spark for us off the bench. He scores. He rebounds. He's a great defender.

"Kris lost 40 pounds when he came in this summer. He's just gradually gotten better and better to the point now where he's doing a lot of little things. He was not making shots, which is really his greatest strength. Now he's making shots and really become an invaluable part of our rotation."

The 6-foot-5 Hart, a member of the Big East all-rookie team, averages almost eight points, but he has shown his foremost talent to be crashing the offensive boards. He has pulled down 1.8 per game in just 21.0 minutes of playing time.

The 6-6, 255-pound Jenkins has the body to mix it up inside but has shown a knack for hitting the three-point shot, especially later in the season. He is 8 of 17 (47.1 percent) from beyond the arc in his last five games.

For both players, it was a matter of helping the team in any way they could.

"Honestly, I had no idea what to expect," Hart said. "Going in, you have so many good players on this team that I was just trying to fit in wherever I could. Luckily after that, my role increased and my minutes increased. I kind of came in and wanted to prove myself to everybody."

Jenkins, whose mother, Felicia Jenkins, is an assistant women's basketball coach at Jackson State, kept it simple starting out and has improved in confidence as the season has progressed. He has averaged 7.4 points in his last five games, nearly double his season average of 3.9.

"The role is just to go out there and play hard," he said, "know the scouting report, help your teammates, just be out there together, playing smart, playing hard. I'm just more comfortable. The guys stress to me every day, just go out there and play hard, and everything else takes care of itself."

Hart was a bright spot in the Wildcats' loss to Seton Hall in last week's Big East Tournament quarterfinals, with 18 points and eight rebounds. Now he and Jenkins are ready to make their NCAA debut and hope their tournament stay in 2014 will be a long one.

"It's definitely exciting to do something you grew up always watching," he said. "So to be able to play in it, it's just so many different emotions. We have to stay calm and stick to doing what we do. At the end of the day, it's just another game, just another step in our journey."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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