*Photo taken by ‘804 Varsity’
When I first started this scouting gig in August 2018, I honestly didn’t know much about high school basketball in the Richmond, VA area at all; being a resident of Fredericksburg, VA. Fast forward to today, however, and those early stages of learning how the 804 scene operates have come and gone. It’s been a great joy to stay in the game as a scout/journalist, as I felt this past high school season was a great first one to cover. Looking back, one Richmond team I did indeed know about prior to joining ‘Phenom Hoops’ happened to be a top one in the state: Varina High School (Henrico, VA). I first saw the Blue Devils in the 2017 ‘Times-Dispatch Invitational Tournament,’ while on Christmas break in my senior year of college. Back then, I deemed several potential college prospects on the Varina roster and can now officially say my predictions proved true; three seniors on this year’s 2018-19 team have committed to play at the next-level. The most recent announcement came from the 2019 Virginia High School League (VHSL) Region 5B Player of the Year, Tyrese Jenkins ’19, last week, as the senior chose Norfolk State University (Norfolk, VA). It’s safe to say many have acknowledged him as a highly important piece for Varina these last few years and honestly one of the most successful players to emerge out of Richmond. It’s a notion hard to disagree with, considering all that he’s accomplished in his four-year varsity career.
Pretty much all players want to leave a legacy in a program they enter, regardless of the sport. However, that accomplishment rarely comes with ease, as it’s relatively common to go through a period (or more) of trials and tribulations before reaching success. Many learn this in both sports and life. For Jenkins, I’m sure he can relate too, in a sense. The Richmond audience did not really acknowledge Varina as a basketball-powerhouse until that same season I first saw them in 2017-18. Finishing with a 26-2 overall record, the Blue Devils went on to secure the VHSL Class 5 state championship in March 2018; the first in school history. It became the crowning achievement for Jenkins, who also took home plenty of other hardware that junior season: VHSL Class 5 State Player of the Year, Region 5B Player of the Year, All-Metro first team member, and others. The majority of those same personal accolades occurred once again for the 6’7” forward’s senior campaign, while his team continued to establish their mark as arguably the 804’s best; earning the #1 area ranking by the ‘Richmond Times-Dispatch.’ They would fall short of a second consecutive state title, however, losing in the semifinal round to Maury High School (Norfolk, VA). Through all of the ups and downs that his high school experience contained, Jenkins looks back on it all with satisfaction.
“I feel like my career went great considering everything I accomplished as an individual and for the team too,” Jenkins said. “Varina wasn’t really known for its basketball for a long time but I feel like we had a lot of talent throughout my four years once I started school. We definitely started a trend of winning and put the basketball program on the map. That state championship last year was hands-down my favorite moment. Not a lot of people get to experience winning one, so it’s a moment you’ll never forget. That, and for it to be our first in school history, that was a big moment for us.”
As the Blue Devils fully got into their winning ways, this also brought great support from their home fans and others within the area. Jenkins and a couple of his teammates have mentioned how the Varina gym used to always fill up whenever game days arrived. They’ve received mass coverage from multiple media outlets over these last two seasons for their exciting style of play and state recognition. A near-hour long documentary of the team’s state championship season, titled ‘Better in Blue: A Varina Story’ and released by ‘Newviews Productions’ in June 2018, can be found on YouTube.
Even with all of the notable fun and memories that high school brings, it always must come to an end. Nevertheless, I’m sure Jenkins has eagerness for this next upcoming phase: Division I college hoops. When the news broke out on social media last week that the Varina star would join the Norfolk State Spartans, one could feel the buzz stemming from Richmond’s basketball followers. I saw the opportunity as a well-deserved situation and feel Jenkins could prove himself as a steal in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). With an impressive 6’7” frame, he showed some of the most versatility within the class of 2019 prospects I saw this past season. Three-level shooting, strong rebounding, excellent footwork, touch, and IQ all played a role in his package as a player who can produce both inside and out. In addition, you can always count on him to deliver big plays down the stretch of a tightly-played game. Back in March, I chose him as a superlative choice for ‘Who I’d Want to Take the Last Shot.” That intangible just becomes naturally instilled in a player.
“Norfolk State has a great coaching staff and I like the way they play, which all made it feel like it was a good fit for me.”
Likewise to Varina, Norfolk State also finished with a noteworthy 2018-19 season of their own. The Spartans made their way to the top spot of the MEAC with a conference record of 14-2 and took home the regular season championship. After falling short in the MEAC tournament’s championship contest, they then went on to upset #1 seed Alabama in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) before Colorado took them down in the following second round.
“Yeah, the coaches and I have talked about my place on the team next year. With them coming off of a great year in the MEAC, I know the bar is set high. So, I have to come in and contribute in whatever way I can to keep the winning going. I hope we can get to the NCAA tournament… that would be a big accomplishment for me, and the team as well.”
With big plans already in the back of his mind, I’m confident that Jenkins will find success during his tenure in Norfolk due to the winning mentality he’s developed over these past couple of years. Regardless of talent/ability, I’ve always seen that particular type of mindset as one of the most essential traits a player needs to contain if he or she desires to reach high standards. Not many young hoopers have gone through a high school career like Jenkins’; experience is everything. In the meantime, this present period of spring and the offseason gives him an opportunity to keep making various improvements and fully become ‘college-ready.’
“Lately, I’ve been working on everything, really: my all-around game, while also doing some strength and conditioning. Just trying to be as prepared as possible. Other than that, I don’t really do much else except go to school. Can’t wait to graduate though (laughs).”
As the time for Jenkins to receive his diploma and officially depart from Varina nears closer by the day, most recognize the basketball program will have a different look next year. Five players are graduating and head coach Andrew Lacey recently agreed to lead the men’s basketball team at Richard Bland Junior College (Petersburg, VA) for 2019-20 and onward. Regardless of the changes and unpredictable future, Jenkins has some simple words of advice for the next wave of Blue Devils.
“I would just tell these incoming Varina players to play hard and keep it going. It’s going to be some tough, young players coming through, so I think they’ll be fine.”
“Staying the pace”; a straightforward yet meaningful remark that all players should live by, in my opinion. That same focus played a large part in all of Jenkins’ success and hopefully can inspire others on the come up in the 804. I definitely will be tuned in to see how his next stage in the MEAC unfolds.
Can’t forget it…where does Tyrese Jenkins see himself in ten years?
“I’m not really sure where I see myself in ten years…hopefully somewhere making some money.”
Several area standouts continue to make their college decisions this month. Congrats to Tyrese!