VILLANOVA, Pa. – Rihanna headlined the Made in America music festival in Philadelphia last month, and some of the national champion Villanova Wildcats wanted to go.
The Wildcat who runs this town tonight – and maybe forever – just felt like staying home.
Kris Jenkins needed a break from the fans who know him as Big Smooth. He just needed peace.
Could it be, Jenkins bigger than Jay Z?
“In this town,” teammate Josh Hart said, laughing, “definitely.”
Hart made the show and bumped into fans who suddenly recognized the Wildcats, not just because they were the big men on the Main Line campus, but because of their increased visibility as the reigning NCAA national champions.
Hart can’t blame Jenkins for his desire to keep a low profile.
“I’ll go out there and I’ll get stopped a couple of times,” Hart said. “I’m just like, I’m happy Kris isn’t out here. If I’m with Kris, I’m not going to be able to go nowhere.”
Jenkins is no longer just another Big East forward likely to be forgotten by all except to the program’s diehards fans. He is the big man on campus. The Big Shot. He is the reason the Wildcats will raise a national championship banner in a ceremony Friday night at the Pavilion.
His 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Wildcats to a 77-74 victory over North Carolina and the national championship.
Jenkins joined Christian Laettner, Lorenzo Charles, Michael Jordan and Keith Smart on the March Madness highlight reel of greatest game-winners in tournament history.
“When it first happened, I watched it a couple of times,” Jenkins said. “Recently, I haven’t really watched it. Just trying to put it behind us and put that shot behind me.”
Put the shot behind him?
Good luck with that.
Jenkins’ timely 3 led him to the White House and the red carpet at the ESPYs.
President Barack Obama made the traditional winner’s phone call to coach Jay Wright and said, “Congratulate all of them, and tell Jenkins that he looked pretty cool out there taking that shot.” Obama singled out Jenkins again when the team visited the White House and referenced him by his Big Smooth nickname. Of all the stars, athletes and other celebrities Jenkins met this summer, Obama left an imprint.
“President Obama was probably the only star-struck one,” Jenkins said.
But other All-Stars wowed Jenkins.
“Charles Barkley. DeAndre Jordan. Reggie Miller. All those guys,” he said. “That was pretty cool, too.”
Hart attended the ESPYs and introduced himself to famous athletes and A-listers, finding polite greetings on the other end. But even the big shots knew Jenkins.
“I am an ant in their world,” Hart said. “Kris Jenkins, he don’t really have to announce himself too much.”
He introduced himself to the college basketball world in April.
The shot that made him famous came on a play Villanova practiced daily: Jenkins made the inbounds pass to guard Ryan Arcidiacono. He worked it up court and forward Daniel Ochefu set a pick near halfcourt to clutter things up, then Arcidiacono got set for the feed.
“I was running hard enough to get close to him and get in his vision so he could see me and hear me,” Jenkins said. “I had to sprint pretty far because he had a little head start on me. I think I’ve got a pretty good voice so the yells were pretty good.”
Wright calmly mouthed, “Bang.” Game over.
“Life changed a little bit,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins kept his sneakers from the game – though Hart has tried prying them away for his collection.
“He’s not letting me get nothing,” Hart said. “I want a pair of compression shorts or something. A sock. I want to get something signed.”
Wright has talked with Jenkins about how to handle the popularity that smacked the humble senior out of Maryland.
“Anywhere he goes, everybody knows who he is,” Wright said. “Even everywhere I go, they ask me about him.”
Jenkins, who averaged 13.6 points last year, downplayed the shot.
“I’m humbled by it,” the 22-year-old said. “I’m just ready to go for the upcoming year.”
The Wildcats will raise the banner and former coach Rollie Massimino will attend to also raise a new and modern 1985 championship banner.
Expect the loudest ovation to be saved for Jenkins.
“I’m low key, so I don’t really get caught up in being a star, or being what people say is a star, or the guy,” he said. “I just consider myself a young man who loves the game of basketball, who loves his teammates and will do anything to help out his guys.”
Especially if they need help on the last shot of the championship game.