How Jonah Jenkins has elevated the #3 Wildcats to title contenders
Walk into any gym where the third-ranked Cashion Wildcats are playing basketball and sit down for five minutes. You’ll only need two of those to realize that No. 22 and No. 13 are pretty dang good. Jacob Woody and Alex Nabavi have started every single game since they were sophomores three years ago and have developed into one of the best dynamic duos in Class 2A. That’s the first thing everybody sees. They command attention—from you, from coaches, from opposing players. But stick around for those other three minutes and you’ll notice another sophomore leaving his fingerprints all over the game.
Jonah Jenkins has played basketball all his life. He was born into it. Everyone from his father Buck to his older brother Luke and older sister Brenna has laced up a pair of sneakers and ran up and down the court. Jonah has followed their footsteps. Every single one of them took turns orchestrating an offense as point guards. Now with Jonah conducting the Wildcats offense, Cashion has catapulted to No. 3 in the state and has emerged as legitimate title contenders.
Woody and Nabavi are still doing their best one-two punch, averaging 19 and 11.1 points per game, putting immense pressure on defenses to slow them down. Cashion Head Coach John Hardaway knew entering this season that those two would draw a lot of double teams and triangle-and-twos. That’s why he challenged Jenkins last summer to elevate his game, which in turn would elevate the play of the team.
“We try to talk to our guys after every season about their strengths and their weaknesses and things they can improve to not only help them but to help our team,” Hardaway said. “We challenged Jonah to become a better shooter.”
Last season as a freshman, Jenkins shot 20 percent from behind the arc. He got to the point where he didn’t like shooting the ball. Then after Hardway challenged him to become a better shooter, he went to work.
“Hardaway told me if I improved my shot that I would be one of the most unguardable players in our class,” Jenkins said. “He knows I can handle the ball and find other people, but he told me if I could get my shot going, I would be a really good offensive player.”
Jenkins spent time in the gym, working with his brother Luke and his cousins Vaughn and Vance Raney. They helped Jonah find his range. So far this season, Jonah has seen his numbers skyrocket, going from a 20 percent three-point shooter to a 43 percent three-point shooter. He’s also shooting over 52 percent from the field and 55 percent from two’s.
“He’s shooting 43 percent with the guys that are around him that can shoot it really well, too,” Hardaway said. “To shoot the way he’s shooting and to still average five assists on top of that is pretty amazing. It’s been such an improvement that if he’s open we want him to shoot the rock. It’s made us really hard to defend because now you have to choose between who to defend.”
While Jenkins has seen a surge in his shooting numbers, that’s not what makes him dangerous. It’s his calmness on the floor. For a sophomore, Jenkins has an uncanny ability to read defenses. He understands space and angles at a high level. He says it’s from watching his family before him, but some things you’re just born with.
“He plays beyond his grade year that’s for sure,” Hardaway said. “The thing I love about him besides his abilities is how savvy he is and how calm and confident he is in what he’s doing. That’s what you want from your point guard. It’s comforting to know when we go out and play, I feel like we have the best point guard on the floor. He feels like he belongs and should be very successful against anybody. He feels like no matter who we play that we’re better and that he’s better. He just kind of has it.”
The Wildcats are anchored by Woody and Nabavi but Jenkins might be Cashion’s best-kept secret. Though if he continues to play at the level he’s playing at, he won’t be a secret for much longer. Which according to him, not only can his play get better, but so can the team.
“That’s the best thing about this team, anybody can go out and get 20 on any given night. It makes us really hard to scout,” Jenkins said. “I know this is a state championship team. I don’t think we’ve played our best ball yet. I don’t think we’ve even touched it yet.”