Before I manage to piss off any teachers who happen to be reading this blog, let me go on the record and state that I have nuff respect for teachers. Some of my best friends are teachers. Almost every single member of my extended family was or is a school teacher. I once slept with a teacher. Many times actually. And besides, I myself have spent time in that honorable profession. Teaching.
But enough about me. This article is actually about Scoville Jenkins, and my uncertainty about how to feel about his decision to take a job as the Assistant Coach at Kennesaw State College, Michigan.
In my history of being obsessed with everything tennis, Scoville Jenkins remains the only tennis player for whom I flew all the way to Costa Rica. Now granted I also went to see that beautiful country and have my first experience of sliding down tree tops. But I also went to see Scoville. The event was the Copa Del Café. He didn’t win. But I witnessed first hand his tremendous talent as a Junior.
But sadly, that talent never translated into making a dent on the pro ATP tour. After six years of trying, his highest rank was 198 on the singles tour. That was in 2006. He won the 2004 USTA Hardcourt Juniors title, but has never won a title on the ATP tour. I’m not sure where things went wrong for him. Or maybe they didn’t go wrong so much as they just didn’t go right. Certainly he had his share of injuries. But Phil Dent and Jo Wilfred Tsonga both returned from major back surgery to perform well on the tour. No, the sad truth is that after a while, Jenkins started becoming a bit of an also-ran, just another straggler (or struggler) on the tour.
I like the way psychologists have penetrated the world of tennis. I like that young kids are now being taught psychological techniques of success right along with how to hit topspin lobs. But I would be hard-pressed to say that Jenkins’ problems were mental. The teenager I saw in Costa Rica was a talented, confident, almost cocky individual. And I have long been a defender of cockiness of any kind on the tour. The meek shall not inherit crap.
And now apparently Jenkins has thrown in the towel. Well not entirely, as he has made commitments to World Team Tennis as well as to some exhibition matches. But at age 24, he seems to be signaling that his best years as a player may be behind him. And he may be right. But part of me thinks that he’s still only 24. Success in later years is possible, isn‘t it? Agassi did it. So did Jonas Bjorkman. Why not Scoville Jenkins?
Instead Jenkins has accepted a job as the understudy to the men’s tennis coach of the Kalamazoo Owls. Clearly he seems to be signaling a change in career direction. And frankly, if his eventual goal is to become the go-to coach for winning NCAA teams (and I hope it is), starting off as the apprentice to a successful mentor is exactly the way to go about it. The best teachers are always those who never get tired of learning and who know how and when to humble themselves and become students again.
But as I write this I find myself also thinking of Jamaica’s Dustin Brown. I also once traveled to Jamaica to see him play in Davis Cup. It wasn’t as long a trip but my intentions were just as honorable. And what I saw in Brown was a much more naturally talented version of Jenkins. With just as much cockiness and attitude.
Brown too recently floated the idea of making a change, not away from tennis but towards a country with more resources to support him than Jamaica. He invoked British grandparents as his reason for thinking of divorcing reggae and going British.
I have no clue why Brown would skip his birth country of Germany and instead offer the teaser of playing for England. But I found the timing of his desire for change to be a bit late. If he was going to go this route, shouldn’t he have done it some five or six years ago? Why persist with Jamaica for so long only to give up when you’ve finally broken into the top 100? Is he thinking that that in itself makes him a more attractive trade? Or was he just jealous that Jamaicans didn’t stop trying to catch that bandit and throw him the kind of party that only the much adored Usain Bolt manages to receive?
Whatever the reasons, I find myself having entirely different reactions to the decision-making of these two men, despite their only 1.5 years age difference. The one seems to be giving up too soon, while the other seems to be making the change way too late.