Spotlight Knight: Caitlin Jenkins
When the charges cleared, Caitlin Jenkins was proven an innocent woman, but one who had permanently lost her Rutgers basketball career. Now, all that remains for the future of her playing career is the hope of making it to the pros.
The former forward’s final season on the Banks was cut down in the prime of a historic run, when she was arrested on Feb. 2 in the presence of her teammates on charges of domestic violence and criminal mischief.
Less than a month later, the alleged victim filed an affidavit dropping both charges and clearing Jenkins’s name, but the damage was done. Jenkins was dismissed on Feb. 21, and Rutgers began its descent from the top of the Big Ten in her absence. It was a circumstance Jenkins thought she escaped when she originally came to the University.
“I worked so hard to get to where I was ... and I ended up in the same thing that I was trying to run away from,” Jenkins said. “Everyone was counting on me to put the city on the map, somebody had to get out and somebody had to win and I feel like I let everybody down.”
The place she was trying to get away from was the same place she first picked up a basketball: Shreveport, Louisiana, 300 miles northwest of New Orleans. It’s a city that sees an average of more than 1,800 violent crimes per year, according to NeighborhoodScout.com.
“It’s like a black hole,” Jenkins said. “You got to do whatever you gotta do to get out, cause if you don’t get out, you’re either gonna end up in jail or you’re gonna die, you ain’t gonna be nothing or be nobody unless you get out, so I had to get out.”
Basketball was her way out. Jenkins became a champion at the high school and junior collegiate level, leading Huntington High School to a conference and sectional championship in 2015 and Southern University to the Region 23 Championships in 2017.
When assistant coach Nadine Domond made the move to join head coach C. Vivian Stringer’s staff in 2017, she left her post at Grambling State, a college 45 minutes away from Shreveport. Domond was familiar with Jenkins from her reputation in the area, and decided to make the 6-foot-3-inch posterizer her first Scarlet Knight recruit.
In 2017, Jenkins transferred to Rutgers on a scholarship, leaving her old community by 1,400 miles. “Everybody likes what they’re used to, but I realized it’s not always bad to change, sometimes it’s better to change than to stay the same and to have different people around you. It’s not bad to pick up new things like different food, I never had Jamaican food before I came here,” Jenkins said. “I don’t like the food though, that’s the one thing, the food back in Louisiana is way better than the food here.”
Despite her new surroundings, Jenkins soon found herself in the middle of familiar circumstances in more ways than one.
Coming to the University gave Jenkins the opportunity at an education in the School of Management and Labor Relations, but it also gave her the chance to do what she had done in high school and junior college on the stage of the Big Ten: Win a championship.
Her senior year, that opportunity looked like it may have been fulfilled. The Knights opened the 2018-19 season undefeated through its first four games, a streak that would feature Stringer’s 1,000th career win, but would not even be the longest of the year.
At its high-water mark, Rutgers tallied 10 straight wins in the midst of Big Ten play, and became the quick favorite to win the conference. Jenkins found a role on the team as a top defensive player, averaging seven rebounds per game.
Then the day came where that opportunity disappeared. The day before a big game in Minnesota, four New Brunswick Police Department officers came to the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), escorted Jenkins out and arrested her just before the team was set to leave to catch a flight.
“That day when they came I was so confused, I didn’t know why they were there,” Jenkins said. “Why did it have to happen at this time in our season when we’re rising to the top? We were number one in the Big Ten, why does this have to happen now, I know my team needed me, it was just crazy, I couldn’t stomach it.”
The Knights lost that game to Minnesota 60-46. It would be the first of four losses over a five-game stretch.
Stringer, in the same season she had tallied her 1,000th win, was also forced to miss the final three games and entire conference tournament after falling ill.
“I feel like this was the starting point of her stress,” Jenkins said. “She was stressed out a little bit before then but I feel like this really hit it home.”
Rutgers ultimately finished third in the conference and lost on the semi-final round of the Big Ten Tournament.
In the time that Jenkins was not with the team, she continued classes as a student, but will never again be a student athlete.
Just as basketball was her avenue to escaping the city of Shreveport, it will once again be a guiding hope as she pursues her dream of joining the WNBA and overcoming a lost career at Rutgers.
“My biggest inspiration is God right now … I have to learn from it and the end of the day, I can't just hold my head down I have to use this to come back bigger than I ever have before,” Jenkins said.
The next phase in the career of Caitlin Jenkins is set to begin April 5 at the WNBA pro combine as an invited participant.
“I'm sorry to all the people I let down in the midst of this, my goal right now is to make use of what I have left and to take my talents to the next level."