No jukes in Jenifer move

High schools: Towson Catholic's elusive and highly sought guard is straightforward about his college aims a year in the `shadows' and `take over the next year.'

February 20, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Where Towson Catholic's Keith Jenifer chooses to take his basketball talents in the fall depends more on what he can learn as a player than how much he will play.

"In the right situation, there would already be a point guard there, maybe a senior," said Jenifer, a 6-foot-3, first-team All-Metro combination guard. "I don't mind spending a season playing in his shadows. I want to do that, so then I can take over the next year."

Jenifer, 18, ranks No. 1 on Hoop Star Magazine's Fab 50 list for the Baltimore area, ahead of No. 2 Derrick Snowden of Spalding and No. 3 David Lunn of McDonogh.

"If there are 10 guards in the country better than Keith Jenifer, I'd love to see them," said Owls coach Mike Daniel.

Said North Carolina-based recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons: "Keith Jenifer is one of the top 10 unsigned guards in the nation, if not one of the top 25 unsigned seniors in the country.

"Keith made his last visit to New Mexico, and he's a kid who can play at a high Division I level. He's more of a shooting guard, but he can also be a combo guard and play the point. Keith can shoot the three-pointer, and I mean knock it down consistently, as well as any player in the nation. And players like that, they're at a premium."

Jenifer is averaging 26 points (including at least 30 points against all but one league opponent), six assists, six rebounds and three steals for the defending Catholic League regular-season champion Owls, who are 24-7 overall and tied for first place with St. Frances at 10-3 in the league.

The second-ranked Owls have one more regular-season game, today against St. Maria Goretti, before heading into Friday's Catholic League Tournament.

Jenifer has a variety of options when it comes to choosing what color his uniform is going to be next fall: Several programs are offering scholarships.

Among them are Maryland, Clemson, New Mexico, UCLA, Florida State, George Washington, South Carolina, Dayton and Pittsburgh. Others in the running include Virginia Commonwealth, Wagner, American, Loyola, Towson and UMBC.

Jenifer visited South Carolina and Maryland, the latter unofficially during the fall. Jenifer said Terps assistant coach Dave Dickerson called him Friday to arrange for an in-home visit late next month. Jenifer said he is still "wide-open" concerning his collegiate future.

"Coach [Daniel] always asks me to ask recruiters if I'm their No. 1 recruit or am I their second option. But some of what the recruiters say to you, you know they're saying to everyone," Jenifer said.

"A lot of them, like New Mexico, they're recruiting two guards," Jenifer said. "The one guy they were after already has signed with Kentucky, but they [New Mexico] say they still want me."

Jenifer could likely make an immediate impact in most any Division I lineup, "but I don't necessarily have to start right away," he said.

"As a freshman, I just want someone to maybe show me the ropes, help me to learn. Then, as a sophomore, I could step it up a little bit," he said. "I don't want to get overwhelmed, or get in over my head. I just want to know, wherever I go, that they have serious plans for me in their future. Most of the schools I've talked to fit into that category."

Jenifer is in search of a situation similar to the one he shared with Lafonte Johnson at Towson Catholic during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Together, they formed a backcourt duo with a potency rivaling that of Lake Clifton's Shawnta Rogers and Kevin Norris, two of the area's more dominant players during the early 1990s.

"Me and Tay, we knew each other well. Plus we were friends, on and off the court," Jenifer said. "When he left, my junior year, it was up to me to try to pull everything together."

Johnson is among several players who have come and gone during Jenifer's four seasons at Towson Catholic. Jenifer said he has grown accustomed to the comings and goings of others in his life.

Since the death of his natural father, Keith Jenifer Sr., when he was 11, Jenifer said he steers clear of all but his closest friends.

"Other than `Tay,' I have like two close friends, and they're both girls, but we talk like brothers more than anything," said Jenifer, who lists Towson Catholic girls basketball standout Erika Haywood among his buddies.

"You have to earn my trust. I have to know someone's interested in me for me," Jenifer said, "not in what I'm going to be or what I'm going to have in the future."

Then again, Jenifer has always been sort of a loner.

"He's been a latchkey kid since he was 8, and he was always good about coming straight home. Plus, I'm very strict," said his mother, Gwen Johnson. "I know I don't have to worry about Keith, other than occasionally letting his mouth get him into trouble."

Said Jenifer: "When I think I'm right, I try to get the last word in. But if I'm wrong, I'll shut up, most of the time. But I'm not perfect."

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