Joey Jenkins is a 33 year old 198cm forward that has waited a long time to get to Europe which he did in 2014 playing for the Westfallen Mustangs of the Oberliga and Paderborn and continued to playin Italy and for the Missouri Quake (CBDL). He played college basketball with Evangel University (NAIA) and Oklahoma Wesleyan (NAIA). As a professional he has played in the minor leagues in the States with teams like the Gastonia Gamers (WBA) or Springfield Thrill (UBL). In an unreleased interview in 2015 the American told his fascinating story to German Hoops about his basketball life in 2015.
Where are you at the moment and how has your summer been?
I am back in Springfield, Missouri for the moment after just returning from Germany a couple weeks ago. I came into the summer season very hopeful and optimistic about getting picked up by a club in Europe, mainly because of all the hard work I have put in and now with some experience in Europe the last few seasons, I feel my game is well-suited for the European style of play regardless of what position I play.
I always think I have heard it all when I hear the newest Cinderella story, but when hearing your story it seems like you have taken the Cinderella story to a new dimension. How often do you ask yourself why me why me? Why has my life have to have been so difficult?
I try not to ask myself why, rather just understand certain things are going to happen in life that are out of my control. How I respond to these circumstances is what determines my future. Feeling sorry for myself will not get me anywhere. Looking back, I have adopted the motto of the National championship team I was on in 2009, which was, “For His Glory”. People have been doubting me my entire life, especially after they found out I had certain disabilities (around age 8 ), but that is exactly why God allowed me to carry these burdens my entire life, because He (Christ) knew when I accomplished my goals in life, there would be no other explanation except, “It is a miracle from God that Joey was able to achieve this. He could not have done it without God’s help. There is absolutely no other way.” That is why I am proud to give my Savior 100% of the Glory. I promised God years ago I would dedicate my life to serving Him. I was always in prayer, asking Him if I could do what I loved for a living. Somehow it was my understanding that God wanted me to do everything possible to achieve my dream, despite the circumstances and the temporary pain of past failures. After knowing I had given 110%, even when the task at hand seemed impossible, He would quietly whisper, “Trust Me”. And now, I am blessed to be able to serve Him on and off the court to further His kingdom. Many times we ask ourselves, “Why is this happening to me?”, But I have learned it’s a maturation process. It is all about faith, knowing when there is an impossible task, and no earthly way out, God is right there in the middle of the storm. All we have to do is trust Him. But giving up just proves how much we underestimate God’s awesome power to bless us when we need it the most. There is a reason God does not give away the ending of his plan before the story unfolds if he did we would not need to trust Him, because that is what faith is all about.
Probably the most interesting part of my recent testimony is I was offered a job in Italy playing for G. S. Robur Basket in Serie C. Just before I sent in my testimony, problems started to arise with me being able to come to that team. But I felt God telling me to go ahead and send in the interview knowing I might not be playing basketball this season. The reason was I truly believed people needed to hear what God has done for me, even if it did not end the way I had imagined. But that is just the amazing thing about God. If you continue to put your trust in Him, ultimately He promises you will be rewarded for your loyalty. During the last couple nights that I was unsure of my immediate future, I would spend hours on my knees pleading with God to let me play professionally this season. Just before my original testimony went viral, I was contacted by my agent, who found me an even better situation in the same league, now playing for Ghepard Mister Auto Bologna. God’s grace and mercy continues to reaffirm my belief that prayer truly does change things. God really had listened to me, and because of my faith and determination to keep asking Him to allow me to play basketball, I was rewarded with yet another second chance at playing basketball, and again I was reminded of what happens when you give God the glory.
If you dedicate everything you have to God, He will bless you beyond your wildest dreams. That is truly the life I am living now. You simply cannot out-give God! The more you sacrifice to Him, the more He blesses you, times 100. It is a win-win. You get to open up your life and allow God to bless you, meanwhile, God gets the glory for doing the miraculous in your life, simply because you trust Him. Many athletes, or people in general, work themselves to death, with little or nothing to show for it, all because they’re doing it by themselves. In reality, if they would dedicate everything they do to a higher power, they would not need to promote themselves for the work they have allowed to consume their lives, thus only reaping minimal benefits. I really was prepared to offer God 100% of the praise for a dream I was totally unsure even existed, and for that, I was more than blessed.
You have a very interesting basketball story as you have fought against the odds as you have Tourette’s Syndrome and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), along with many other psychological disorders including depression and ADHD. Have you ever thought of writing a book or giving your story to a film maker?
YES! Haha. I look around and realize this world is all about second chances. And everybody loves an underdog. It is not that I want people to feel sorry for me because of my disorders or label me a victim. I want to be seen as overcoming these obstacles in my life. Because of my testimony, I would definitely be interested in having my life played out through a book or a motion picture on the big screen. The only reason I haven’t done it yet is because I have a strong belief that my career is not over, and that the best is yet to come.
With all these disorders that you have, how much does it affect you on a daily basis and has it gotten better or worse over the years?
Every second I am awake I am reminded of things I cannot control, things I must do, which I can´t explain things that hurt my body. I cannot walk through a crowd of people in public without being publicly humiliated and laughed at by people that have no clue what Tourette’s syndrome and OCD are. Most people think I am on drugs. It affects every single thing I do – except play basketball. That is why I enjoy spending so many countless hours in the gym by myself. It is on the court I am not bothered by the Tourette’s, the tics, the obsessive-compulsive disorder, the anxiety, or the depression. Basketball gives me hope. Basketball gives me freedom. Basketball gives me a future. These conditions, however, when I am not playing may increase or decrease in severity without any noticeable warning. Stress also plays a big role in determining how bad the tics are and how often they come. The medicines I take help a great deal, as long as I have access to all of my prescriptions.
You never played high school basketball simply because you couldn´t maintain the academic requirements and didn´t start to play college ball until 21. How difficult was it making this decision when you probably had many doubters not giving you the chance to succeed?
I actually did not make a college basketball team until I was 25 years old. Going through college trying to make the basketball team was very discouraging, and my academic performance suffered just because of my depression from being rejected over and over. I was not social with friends, I did not go out and enjoy myself like a normal college student. I had severe mood swings, my weight fluctuated, and I stopped eating normally for months at a time. I spent long hours in my dorm room alone crying myself to sleep at night because I did not want to let people know how weak I had become. But giving up was never an option. Michael Jordan said it best. “I can accept failure. I can’t accept not trying.”
Was getting your high school diploma in 2002 kind of a sign and motivation for you that anything was possible even pursuing basketball in college and as hard as it might be later as a professional?
Not even close! When I received my diploma in 2002, I was in a bad situation in my life. I had no direction and I was just going through the motions happy to be finished with summer school. I had no plans, no college offers or acceptances, and having a thought of a successful future anywhere in basketball was absolutely ludicrous, given my past ability to succeed at things. I was always a late bloomer, but this was far too extreme for everyone else in my family. At that point in my life, I would have been lucky if I did a decent job in the fast food industry.
You didn´t have the best experience at Evangel University. There you were cut by your own uncle three times in two years. After a horrible experience like that what motivated you this time to keep grinding away and wanting and having the desire to play basketball?
Honestly not a lot of people know this about me. But during the summer of 2008, after I had gotten cut the last time, I was living close to some football players at Evangel that had seen me play before and also helped train me in the offseason. One night they asked me where I was playing at next year, and I said I was going to come back to Evangel. They quickly stopped me and let me know that they had heard otherwise, and I confirmed that I had been cut, and there would be no more second chances for me at EU. I was quickly humbled by the realization that I no longer had a place in college playing basketball. I agreed with them and told them about my passion and burning desire to play at the collegiate level. They told me it was simple. Go somewhere! Anywhere! And do what you love. They told me not to let anyone tell me I wasn’t good enough after I had given 110%. They said go to any school you want that will let you play basketball, and prove everyone wrong! That night I got on the Internet and formally applied to over 30 schools in the area. Everyone of them respectfully declined except one. Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The same exact school in my hometown I went to in 2005-2006, where I was denied a try out by the former head coach. Then, the new head coach that just happened to be a very close friend of my uncle, running things put me on the Junior Varsity squad, and told me I had earned a spot on the varsity roster as well. It was an interesting experience transferring back to the school in my hometown where I had started from. But the result was poetic justice at its finest.
You then played at Oklahoma Wesleyan (NAIA) and luck having it you won the MCAC and NCAA 2 tournament having a 35-2 record. Was Donnie Bostwick like your special angel that pretty much gave you your last chance?
Everything happens for a reason. It sounds cliché but it is true. God sent Coach Bostwick there just one year before I arrived. If you ask Donnie Bostwick, he would agree, God gets all the glory here. It was God’s plan that everything worked out the way it did, after being cut 3 times in 2 years by my uncle, who was the head men’s basketball coach at Evangel University. So when it came time for us to play Evangel that year, there was a lot on the line, mainly for us, more specifically me. My teammates all told me before the game not to worry, because they were going to go out and help me prove my uncle wrong. We came into a hostile environment at Evangel and walked out triumphant.
What will always be your sweetest memory winning the 2009 NCAA 2 tournament with Oklahoma Wesleyan (NAIA)? NAIA D-II
Spending time with my teammates, and learning so much about the game from (then) head coach Donnie Bostwick. Ultimately proving everyone wrong that said I could not play at the collegiate level, especially the people closest to me, even family.
How glad were you that you returned back to Evangel University to get your degree? How difficult was it putting basketball on the back burner for a while?
To be honest, now that I look back on it, I wish I would have stayed at Oklahoma Weslyan University, because we had a great team the year we won the championship and the next year when I returned to Evangel, they made it all the way back to the final four in the national tournament. I would have really liked the opportunity to make a difference in the outcome of that season for Oklahoma Weslyan, knowing I was going to have a bigger role on the team the next year. Returning to Evangel was not that difficult. In my mind I thought I was walking away on top. At the time, I did not look at it as temporary. I thought I was completely finished playing competitively. But when you are passionate about something, it is not something you can just put aside for a period of your life, even if you do not realize how passionate you truly are about it.
After college you played in the minor leagues in the states in leagues like the ABA, the UBL, and the WBA. It is here that you were teammates with Milen Brown. He also has been fighting the odds, but will play in Germany this season. Do guys like you develop a special bond over time just through the experiences that you have gone through?
Milen is a great guy, a hard worker, and a tremendous player that will do well in Germany. During our season together in Springfield Missouri, we had many talented players on the team, but they were not willing to fail at something as wild as playing professionally overseas. The two of us knew that about each other, unfortunately so did the other guys on the club. They absolutely hated us because they believed we thought we were better than them, when in reality we just knew we had something special knowing we were not just playing glorified pick up ball. It was a chance to prove ourselves. The 2 of us truly believed that. Just look at both of our social media outlets. Our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts are all filled with positive, motivational, and uplifting things that remind us of what’s inside of people that think like we do. We knew both of us were putting in the extra hours of work while the other guys were partying all the time. When it came time to play, there was a lot of animosity. One practice ended in a fist fight because Milen was taking guys to school and they weren’t happy about it so they made sure he was a bloody mess by the time we walked out of the gym. But Milen and I stuck together knowing we had a real sense of direction and purpose in our lives. That is why those other guys are really quiet right now when they see us succeeding.
How important was it getting selected to Team USA Select European Tour Team Played in the United Kingdom. You scored 31 points against Leeds. Do you feel that got you through the door in Europe?
It was very important. There are many things you have to prove to different people in this life. Scoring 31 points in the second half that night on tour was not one of them. That was something I had to prove to myself. The funny thing is before the game that day I told all my teammates I was going to go out and get 40. We had a full roster that night, and I had no points going in to halftime. Our coach put me in during the third quarter. There were no cameras there, only the people in the gymnasium. But it gave me a real sense of hope as to what I could accomplish in the future. My teammates were great. After the first three pointer went in, all they wanted to do was pass me the ball.
Did you get some advice from former teammate Steve Briggs about Germany? He had played for Wulfen and Muenster the last years?
Steve is the best basketball player I have ever seen. Keep in mind, I have been given the responsibility of guarding guys that play for the UK National team, and even in the Olympics for Great Britain. With that being said, he is an even better person and friend then he is a basketball player. Ever since our championship run in 2008-2009 he has been my best friend because he treats everyone the way he wants to be treated. You can tell a lot about someone by how they treat people they don’t need in their life. Briggs is a perfect example of this. I can think of countless others who are examples of this for all the wrong reasons. Steve has always been supportive of me, even when I was not using good judgement. We did not always agree on everything, but that is not what best friends do. They just see the best in one another. Aside from telling me the ins and outs of the business, Briggs has taught me a lot about how to handle things in a game. I remember one game of the national tournament in 2009. One of the guys on the other team was trash talking to Steve and eventually gave Briggs a bloody lip. Steve was always a quiet guy. He did not say much unless something needed to be said. He always led by example, and used words when necessary. Directly after the bloody lip in the game, Briggs went off for 27 points in the first half. He taught me a lot about how to act as a professional while he was still in college winning multiple national championships. He was, and will always be, a class act.
In 2014 you came to Germany to play for the Westfalen Mustangs Germany Landesliga that achieved Germany’s Longest Winning Streak in any Sport (72-0). 1 of 6 Import Players on the Team where you led the Team in Steals, Free-Throws Made, Free-Throw Percentage, Three Point Field-Goals Made, Three Point Field-Goal Percentage Averaged Over 5 Made 3 Pointers per Game 19 points per game 8 rebounds per game 5 assists per game 3 steals per game. It looked all good, but then you got cut, because your disorder got in the way. Was that the whole truth or were there other issues with management?
There were, indeed, other problems with the management and his relationship with the players. He was not only the owner, but, at times, the Coach, and the starting point guard. The problem wasn’t necessarily with me, but with the other young big-name Americans that he promised would receive a salary. They never received what was promised to them. Hungry young players rush into a deal that looks too good to be true, with little or no guidance as to what they are getting themselves into. This is not uncommon at all in the low-level leagues around the globe. The United States is no different.
You then were contacted by a team just down the autobahn in Germany the Finke Baskets who play in 2nd Regionalliga only to be continuously mislead by their head coach and front office. With two bad experiences in Germany do you think you would give Germany a third chance if given?
Everywhere I go I learn something. The more I get familiar with this business the more I understand there are scam artists and predators out there willing to take advantage of young immature athletes with a little bit of money to offer. It is very important when someone promises you something to get it in writing and signed, as an official contract, and even then, as ridiculous as it may sound, that contract means nothing. As long as you are employed by that team, the owner, the coach, and the front office may treat you however they choose, despite what is in your contract. If I had a dollar for every time I heard of a contract not being withheld exactly, I would not have to play in Europe. I would probably own an NBA team. I realize there are good honest people everywhere in the world, just like there are honest teams and organizations everywhere, but if you are working your way up the basketball totem pole, starting from the bottom. For that they are willing to exploit you as much as they can. I always want to find the best in people, and maybe that makes me a little naïve, but I will always keep trying to play basketball regardless of the corruption in the business. I would go to Germany and play anytime if I truly believe I can trust the organization, and it always helps if they believe in me. Life is tough, and professional basketball is no different.
You then went home and soon after got a call from an owner in Italy who asked if I would consider playing in Serie C. Now at age 31, you seemed to have a contract and would be playing for Osimo G. S. Robur Basket in Italy with a salary. However the owner of the team in Osimo was having a lot of difficulty finalizing the deal, and just when it looked like you would not have a job you still trusted God. You got a second chance. Now you will be going to play in BolognaThe Joey Jenkins European ride continues. How thrilled are you about this new opportunity?
Words cannot explain how grateful and blessed I am to have this opportunity. The night I received the news from Italy, I went to sleep with tears of joy in my eyes. I am forever indebted to the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ for allowing me to make it this far and have a chance to make a living doing what I love. I also have to thank my agent, Allesandro Ferracini, for his diligence and being patient with me, allowing God to use him to further my testimony. I also have to thank my new team, Ghepard Mister Auto Bologna. They really came through for me when I needed them. I look forward to allowing God to be able to use me to be a blessing back to them.There are many people that enjoy their jobs and “passionate” is a very big cliché these days that people use to describe something they like, not even love. So how many people do you know that can truly say they are passionate about getting to play a professional sport for a living?
How convenient that you will be playing in Italy since Pablo Prigioni is a kind of role model for you? Has he always been that or more that he made the NBA at 36 and also fought a bit against the odds, but made the NBA at the unbelievable age of 36?
Mainly because he did what many players cannot do at such a late age, which puts him and I in the same situation more or less. It also helps that he and I are both Italian, but mostly the fact that it is one of those one in a million odds type stories, and now he is successful in the NBA and proving his worth.
You still want to play 5 more years in Europe. What do you believe with be your biggest asset in Italy with your new team?
On the court, it would be my jump shot and my ability to shoot the basketball from anywhere on the court. I am absolutely lethal inside of half court. I always tell my teammates and the guy guarding me, “If you don’t block it, it’s going in.” I truly believe that every time I let it go. That is what has enabled me to be so successful as a player on the court. Off the court, I am very friendly to everyone, mainly because I have a great deal of respect for the people I come in contact with, without making them prove themselves or suggesting they have to earn my respect. I enjoy all kinds of people, and I am easy to get along with. I love trying new things in different cultures, such as food, customs, rituals, meeting girls, and I enjoy learning new languages wherever I go. It gives me a true sense of belonging and acceptance into that culture. You could live in United States and speak perfect English and never get that feeling. It is all about how you present yourself.
Where would Joey Jenkins be today without his faith in God?
In the ground. Not many people know this about me, but there was a time when I was young, where I tried to take my own life. God had other plans for me. He always does.
The late North Carolina State head coach Jim Valvanno said it best “Never give up. Never ever give up.” If you could have the chance to ask the legend one question what would it be?
During the 1982–1983 Championship season, whenever your team would lose focus or succumb to an injury, what was your thought process, and what steps did you take to correct the situation?
How does a summer work out day look like for you in the summer of 2015?
Aside from playing in the southwest Missouri Pro-Am twice every week, my daily routine is not what you would expect for a professional athlete, especially one of a younger age. In the mornings it is more common, mostly physical, including running, sprints, lifting weights, conditioning, and spending hours in the gym. After a meal, it is a bit different than other younger athletes who might be back in the gym or running up mountains of sand for the third time of the day. For me it is mostly mental at this point in my career. They say you need 10,000 hours of practice to perfect your craft. At age 31, I have been playing basketball for 30 years, so the practice is there, and I will always be fine-tuning my game, when I feel there are areas that must be worked on, but later in the day you will catch me watching film on certain aspects of my game and people like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Durant, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, or Kevin McHale. Why Kevin McHale you ask? His athletic ability was never great, In fact, it was subpar to say the least. But he was a scoring machine in the 1980’s for the Boston Celtics. He knew how to set screens, he understood the fundamentals of footwork in the post, and he played the game with a tremendous basketball IQ and sense of knowledge for the game. My attention to detail is something I pride myself on. So whenever I am working on something such as footwork with a ladder I do not allow myself to continue until it is done to perfection. Or when I am watching game film on myself, I get a pen and pad of paper and write down all my mistakes, and ways to correct them. Not only watching things that I could do better but things I can do to make my teammates better or putting myself in the position of a teammate asking myself, “What would I do if I was in his situation”. Even things as meticulous as approaching an official. There is a clear cut way to come across to a referee in this game. If I show him or her up in any way, whether it be by my words, my actions, or even a simple gesture such as rolling my eyes, I can expect a negative result, along with a pattern of calls against me to develop. On the other hand, if I approach the referee during a dead ball or time out slowly and calmly, without raising my voice or being disrespectful, and ask a question, he or she is very likely to give me his or her best interpretation of what they saw or what the rule is. Or if you ask them to watch something specifically, chances are they will be more than happy to keep an eye on it if it is in their area. I have really been pushing myself lately to support the referee on his or her decision regardless if I think he or she missed the call 100%. I will say something like, “Good call”, just to get on their good side and let them know I am not showing him or her up. Finally, after dinner, I usually start working on marketing myself to different teams around the globe by getting on the Internet, and making connections with different teams around the world to build my network of basketball relationships. This has helped me a great deal in terms of who I know and how they can help further my career in the business. I realize at this point in my career, I’m not putting in 12 hours of total workout time a day like I used to, but you have to constantly find ways of reinventing yourself because the game is evolving and you have to change with it.
What is the state of Lebron James in 2015? Will he ever be mentioned in the same breath as a Michael Jordan?
LeBron has more God given talent than anyone that has ever played, but the facts are Jordan worked for everything he has ever received. Even if Lebron won 8 titles in his career, he will never be as iconic as Michael. MJ went to the finals 6 times, and won 6 times in dramatic fashion in a way that you could not even script any better than the story that unfolded in the 1990’s. He was also the finals MVP all 6 championships. He was the face of the Chicago dynasty. Lebron’s name will always be associated with his poor professional decision making skills, such as the first decision when he took his talents to South Beach, then when he captured his first title he brought Ray Allen to the team instead of building the team from the ground up like all the great dynasties of the past. Then when he realized he made a poor decision by going to Miami he wanted to please people and his critics so he went back to Cleveland. He is a very savvy business man, and that is why he is very wealthy. His business skills are to be commended, but his common sense and his professionalism throughout his entire career is to be questioned. If it is money he is after, then he has done a terrific job, but I remember him saying he wants to be remembered as the greatest basketball player ever. Going into a post game press conference and stating his opinion of himself as the greatest ever is far different than Michael Jordan going into a press conference humbly, then going out on the court and proving to the world he is the best there ever was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be. The thing is, as soon as he retired for the final time, everyone knew no one in history would ever go down as a better player who did it the way Michael did with so much class and charisma. If you look at all the guys trying to be like Michael Jordan, you still have to remember Jordan did it first, so you have to give credit where credit is due. MJ was not reinventing anyone. He was showing the world the epitome of a perfect basketball player. LeBron James threw that away arguably when he lost his first finals appearance, but for certain when he caused such a scene going to Miami. The bottom line is, actions speak louder than words. The last thing, Michael was never one to self-appoint himself as, “The Chosen One” or “King”. It was the best players in the league at his time that he had to prove himself against, such as Larry Bird that was quoted as saying, “Maybe it’s ‘God’ disguised as Michael Jordan.”.
What was the last movie that you saw?
Thanks Joey for the chat.