By TREY WILLIAMS
First-year Milligan University basketball coach Kylie Russell was confident that Daniel Boone signee Jaycie Jenkins could provide the Buffs a lift as a freshman. But she didn’t know Jenkins would be capable of practically carrying them.
Jenkins, a 5-foot-10 forward, was named the Appalachian Athletic Conference freshman of the year and first team All-AAC after averaging 17.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.
“From the first time I watched her in high school I knew I wanted her to be part of our program,” Russell said, “but I did not know how good she would be. She never played like a freshman. There was no transition. From game one, she brought it.”
Certainly, Jenkins began and ended her rookie season with a bang. She had 22 points and a game-high nine rebounds in a season-opening loss to Alice Lloyd, and piled up 34 points and 17 rebounds in an AAC tournament loss to CIU.
Jenkins’ significant sudden impact was all the more surreal during a pandemic.
“At the beginning of the season I would have never dreamed about these accomplishments,” Jenkins said, “especially just because we weren’t for sure we would have a season and if we did how long it would even last. I was blessed to stay healthy throughout this season and injury free.”
Former Daniel Boone teammate Madi Runnels, also a Milligan freshman who played nearly 10 minutes per game this season, helped smooth Jenkins’ transition.
“The coaches here at Milligan and the teammates have definitely made the transition from high school to college a lot easier,” Jenkins said. “But it also helped to have Madi along with me. My freshman year definitely flew by. It’s crazy that it has already come to an end. Looking back on the Alice Lloyd game I wasn’t really expecting me to come out and play that way my first game here.”
Jenkins could have also played softball and volleyball in college, and many contend softball provided her highest ceiling. COVID-19 cost her a senior season at Boone, and coming out of basketball always slowed her starts in softball.
She dreads not playing softball this spring.
“Yes, it’s going to be really hard,” Jenkins said. “This is the first year that I have never transitioned from basketball straight into softball. I would have loved to continue playing softball but just felt the Lord leading me in this direction.”
Concentrating on one sport should raise the roof on her basketball skills.
“Jaycie had lots of good options out of high school, and I am so glad she chose us,” Russell said. “She is a great basketball player, but she is also a great student and person. In high school she was able to excel in three sports. Even though she has had a great season, I think she is still going to get better now that she just trains for one sport.”
Jenkins’ work ethic and humility impact the team on and off the court.
“Jaycie is very talented, but she is also humble and a great worker,” Russell said. “She goes full speed in every drill, she gets extra shots up and she is always fully engaged during the teaching portions of practice.”
Jenkins intends to increase versatility at the offensive end and to help the Buffs improve on an 8-16 season, which included an 8-11 mark in the AAC.
“I wanna focus on my post game a little more during this offseason,” Jenkins said.
The demands of basketball, Jenkins says, actually seemed to help with the stringent adjustment to college academics.
“Playing a sport in college definitely comes with some responsibility and managing your time,” she said, “but it was also a good balance for me to get a break from homework to go to practice or have a game. … I’m very honored to receive these awards this year. I have to give glory to God for him giving me the ability to play basketball. I look forward to next season playing with my teammates in hopes of having more of a normal season.”