The Big Assist
Shortly after Ken Huffman took the job of athletic director at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County in Georgia, he was driving through the neighborhood one night and noticed 13-year-old Jasmine Jenkins outside playing basketball. He stopped to introduce himself and tell her about the Club. It turned out to be a chance encounter that would change the lives of both Jasmine and Ken.
When Jasmine took him up on his offer and stopped by the Club, he watched her play basketball and saw a lot of raw talent, the kind of skills that can’t be taught. At the same time, he recognized that Jasmine had an unstable home life, not unlike his own childhood growing up in a struggling, single-parent household. She lacked positive role models. “Before I met Ken, I think I was falling into the stereotype of ‘a kid from a bad home’ with the activities I was involved in and the ones I wasn’t,” Jasmine confirms. “But Ken saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.”
Jasmine had never really enjoyed playing basketball before, but something clicked when she began playing with Ken and the kids at the Club, which is when Ken saw her start to come out of her shell. She made new friends and built confidence. Soon it was clear Jasmine had not only ability on the court, but also an instinctive drive that gave her a powerful competitive edge. That became evident right after she played in her first game. “The other girls had already been playing for a couple of years, and I thought I played so badly in comparison,” she remembers. “It inspired me to get better, so I wouldn’t ever have that feeling of being inferior to anyone.”
Ken began spending his weekends working with his protege on the court as well as looking for a venue that would give Jasmine exposure to college coaches. With her improved focus playing out in the classroom as well, he saw that her grade-point average coupled with her basketball abilities made a college scholarship a real possibility.
Though he hadn’t planned on coaching girls’ basketball—his experience was in coaching football—he created the Each One Teach One (EOTO) AAU basketball team built around Jasmine and designed to travel the region and play in high-profile tournaments. From the start, Jasmine was one of the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave, her dogged determination taking on a life of its own.
Before long the EOTO team was winning tournaments, and by the end of Jasmine’s junior year in the spring of 2011, word of her talent was spreading throughout Hall County and beyond. “Jasmine Jenkins leads the EOTO offense like General Patton,” one sportswriter quipped. She hit ESPN’s top 100 rankings of players in the class of 2012. (She ranked 86th in the country.)
Coaches were also taking notice. “We became the first team in Hall County to ever play in front of 100-plus college coaches,” Ken says. “Once they saw Jasmine, they were saying, ‘Wow, we’ve got to have her.’ I was getting calls from Vanderbilt, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Syracuse...20 times a day, every day.”
In the fall of 2011, Jasmine made a verbal commitment to play for Vanderbilt University, where she is studying sports medicine. She says she’s looking forward to a fresh start. Although she has headed off to college, Jasmine has already made a lasting impact in Hall County. Ken plans to continue coaching girls’ basketball and building on the new relationships he has forged with college coaches and tournament directors. The EOTO league now fields teams for every age group, with more than 250 girls participating that come from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County basketball league. “A lot of Jasmine’s hard work has rubbed off, and you can tell the attention that she has brought to girls’ basketball,” he says. “She has done a lot for me, for her teammates, and for her community. I feel like a proud papa.”
Jasmine has also volunteered many hours practicing with the younger kids and trying to be the kind of mentor, on and off the court, that Ken has been for her. “I reiterate to the kids whenever I can, don’t make your challenges into excuses. I want them to look to me and say, ‘Jasmine went to college, so I can, too.’”
Regions is a proud supporter of BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF HALL COUNTY IN GEORGIA.