Catholic League schooled Jenifer in pandemonium

Va. freshman starter finds noise, fury of ACC to be old hat

January 31, 2002|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Freshmen often are a bit intimidated playing in the raucous atmosphere of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Just the sight of places such as Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium and North Carolina's Smith Center - the fabled Dean Dome - can make them cringe.

And then there is Virginia's Keith Jenifer.

His preparations for what he has faced this season in the ACC, and what he will experience when the No. 8 Cavaliers play No. 3 Maryland tonight at University Hall, came during his high school career at Towson Catholic.

Playing at Duke earlier this week was no different than, say, playing at Calvert Hall.

"The Catholic League in Baltimore is almost just like that," Jenifer said yesterday. "By the time I got here, I was used to it."

Jenifer, who came to Virginia after spending one year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., was speaking about the league's environment as well as its competition.

The 6-foot-3, 155-pound point guard has more than held his own, particularly since becoming a starter for the Cavaliers six games ago.

The opportunity for Jenifer came when Virginia coach Pete Gillen decided to move junior Roger Mason, the team's leading scorer, back to his natural position at shooting guard.

Mason had played the point out of desperation when Majestic Mapp was sidelined for the second straight season after knee surgery.

"When Majestic was out, I knew I had my chance to play an important role on this team, to make Mason truly a 2-guard," Jenifer said. "I had to develop really quick so I could move him back to his natural position."

Said Maryland coach Gary Williams: "He brings quickness into the backcourt. He can go coast to coast. Anytime you got a guy who looks to pass, players like playing with guys like that. He certainly fits the way they want to play."

Jenifer has done nearly everything Gillen has asked since taking over at the point.

Including his debut as a starter against North Carolina and former AAU teammate Melvin Scott, when he finished with nine points and four assists in 25 minutes, Jenifer has averaged a little over seven points and three assists.

Except for a shaky performance against Georgia Tech - he had six points, four turnovers and no assists in 13 minutes - Jenifer has played well. Even in his team's only defeat since becoming a starter, Sunday night against the top-ranked Blue Devils, he didn't turn the ball over in a season-high 33 minutes.

"That was amazing," Gillen said. "That was a great accomplishment. We've had veteran good players not do that. He was tremendous. He was one of the top players, especially in the first half. He always hasn't played that well, honestly, but he's had some good moments."

Said Jenifer, who had eight points and four assists against the Blue Devils: "Against Duke, Coach Gillen told me that if I could get by a person, just go. If I get by them tomorrow, I will go."

Jenifer knows that his friends and family back home - including cousins Antoine, who played at Walbrook and Morgan State, and Damien, who played at Mervo and is now at Loyola College - will be watching.

"It's a big deal," he said. "Not for bragging rights, but, hopefully, if we win I can say we beat Maryland."

Jenifer has had to make a number of transitions in the past couple years.

The first came when he left his home in West Baltimore and headed to prep school. Considered a post-graduate, Jenifer still had to adhere to many of the school's military strictures, including getting up at 6 a.m. and putting on a uniform.

"I went to Hargrave to get me ready for college," Jenifer said. "It would get me on my own. All I could do was do work. No distractions, no girls, none of my boys there."

A high scorer at Towson Catholic who averaged close to 30 points a game for the first half of his senior year, he suddenly became a set-up man for teammates such as Jason Clark, now his roommate at Virginia. "I went down there and lost my shot," he recently told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

One of the most challenging aspects of his year at military school was marching in the final parade of the year.

"We were barely there for the parades, but we had to do one," Jenifer recalled with a laugh. "You had to stand at attention for like an hour straight. If you got to scratch, you can't itch it. You can't cough. You've got to hold it. That was crazy. I didn't think I could do that."

Terps tonight

Opponent: Virginia

Site: University Hall, Charlottesville, Va.

Time: 7

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Maryland by 2 1/2

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