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Saturday Morning Quarterback
Jan 20, 2013 12:00 am
Tierney Jenkins has never been indecisive on the basketball court.
Her aggressiveness and fearless on the floor made her one of the top two players in Wilson Central's history, a Miss Basketball finalist and an All-SEC performer at Alabama.
But with nearly two years gone by since she last suited up for the Crimson Tide, Jenkins is at a crossroads in her life, as almost all athletes eventually face.
"I'm trying to figure out what my next move will be," Jenkins told me a couple of nights ago. "It's the biggest crossroads of my career."
The 6-foot forward played in Israel and Iceland last winter and has standing offers to return to those countries, as well as opportunities in Spain, France and the Czech Republic. She says she hasn't fully decided, but sounds like someone ready to dribble in a different direction, one which doesn't involve dribbling at all.
"I probably won't be going back to Israel because of all the craziness there," said Jenkins, referring to the violence which seems to be on display every night on the evening news. "If I can get into grad school, that'll probably be my next move."
Her former high school rival, Alysha Clark, is in her second season playing in Israel [where she has citizenship] for Ramat Hasaron, where she's averaging 11.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Their teams faced each other once last year, though they were only matched up one on one for a play or two, said Jenkins, who started for Elitzur Holon.
"All of the Americans are really, really close. I would see her all the time," said Jenkins, noting they didn't completely leave the Mt. Juliet-Wilson Central rivalry behind, even in the Middle East. "One time, she wore a Mt. Juliet shirt and I was wearing a Wilson Central shirt."
That wasn't as awkward as facing former Central teammate Jasmine Hassell in the SEC as the pair were matched up against each other in Alabama-Georgia games.
"Playing Jasmine was the hardest thing because we are so close," Jenkins said. "I would have to guard her and she would have to guard me. It was the weirdest thing."
Unlike in high school where she played in three straight State Tournaments, Alabama never won much while she played there. Though the school is successful in other sports - the Tide are the defending national champions in women's golf and softball - football is the school's bread and butter. She took a personal interest in the Crimson Tide in general and one player in particular - star running back Trent Richardson.
She and the Cleveland Browns star dated for four or five years and continue to talk. They even saw each other in Miami at the BCS Championship game a couple of weeks ago.
"I'm really close to all of his family," Jenkins said. "My sister is his best friend and he calls my mom all the time."
Richardson has visited the Jenkins family in West Wilson County, where one of the first things he saw upon arriving here were the cows and horses on her father's land, something not often seen in his hometown of Pensacola, Fla.
"He jokes we're not country like Mt. Juliet," Jenkins said.
After her Israeli season ended, she joined an Icelandic team for its playoffs before returning home for the summer. But injuries from a car wreck delayed a possible return to hoops this winter. In the meantime, the aspiring broadcast journalist did an internship for the Alabama athletic department where she did just about everything, including interview some of her former teammates, one of whom had never flown before.
"It was her first away game and I think we flew to The Bahamas," Jenkins said, noting she calmed down somewhat - for awhile - before facing what just about every frequent flyer encounters sooner or later. "We hit turbulence and she was really freaking out."
Jenkins could relate, recalling a trip to Arkansas or somewhere from where the Crimson Tide was trying to return to Tuscaloosa before bad weather turned even worse.
"I thought the plane was going to crash," she recalled. "It felt like it was nosediving. It was the scariest thing of my life. After that, I would always call my parents before a trip and tell them I love them.
"It seems like the airport is my second home."
Her Alabama coach, Wendell Hudson, has talked to her about working as a graduate assistant while working on her master's in sports management, which would pay for her schooling.
"I'm prepared to not play anymore," the 2006 State Tournament Most Valuable Player said. "Basketball was a great chapter in my life, but I'm hoping to start a new chapter or a career.
"I love Alabama so much, it would be great to get my master's at my alma mater."
While waiting to see if she will be admitted to grad school, Jenkins has been hanging around her high school haunts a lot in recent weeks. I've seen her at three Central games in the past month. Also spotted at Lady Wildcat games has been Sara Williams, her teammate from their days at West Wilson Middle School and Central. After playing softball at Western Kentucky, Williams was hired as a special ed teacher at a Hendersonville elementary school last fall.
"It's the longest I've been home since high school," Jenkins said. "For the first time, I'm not expected to do anything right now. In college, I was always expected to be at practice, to be in school.
"And to make a major decision, you want to make the best choices for yourself. Am I going to miss playing? That's the biggest question right now. But my family is helping me with my decision."
One decision she's apparently already made is she won't go into coaching with its long hours.
"Coach [Bud] Brandon asks me that all the time," Jenkins said. "I go to Wilson Central a lot and talk to the girls. But as far as Xs and Os and breaking down film, that's not for me."
Like Clark, another aspiring broadcaster, Jenkins never forgets anybody she's ever met. And she has an eye for the camera. When she and her Lady Wildcat teammates were hoisting the gold ball after beating Shelbyville in the 2006 state final, she spotted then-Democrat photographer Dallus Whitfield in the scrum of photographers on the Murphy Center floor [I have found that trying to take photos in the immediate aftermath of a championship can be a dog-eat-dog experience], and gave a smile just as he clicked the camera.