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Returning Player Refresher: Justin Jenifer

Cane Broome blocks Jenifer from a starting role but that doesn’t mean he won’t be an important part of the rotation.

NCAA Basketball: Tulane at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on your outlook, the addition of Cane Broome to the Cincinnati Bearcats’ roster could be seen as a positive or a negative for Justin Jenifer. The junior point guard from Baltimore has played a reserve role to varying degrees of success during his first two seasons, playing understudy to Troy Caupain. With Broome in the mix, Jenifer will be relegated to the bench once again. That’s good in that Jenifer is still developing, even as a junior, but not good in that that same development could be stunted as he continues to be held from major minutes. Jenifer was once a ballyhooed recruit for the Bearcats, but he has now been turned into a career backup assuming Broome takes the starting job and runs with it.

That’s not all bad, though. Jenifer grew more into his role last season behind Caupain. After a less than stellar freshman campaign, Jenifer improved pretty much all aspects of his game as a sophomore. He was more effective offensively, hitting 41.1 percent of his shots from the floor, up from 36.2 percent in 2015-16. He also hit three-pointers at a higher rate (.378), which made him a more valuable piece of the bench. Part of the reason Jenifer wasn’t always the best choice to come in was the fact that he was an offensive negative, all things considered, as a freshman. With improved shot-making as a sophomore, that narrative changed.

Jenifer’s biggest contributions do not come from his own shooting, however. He is a point guard playing point guard unlike Broome, who is more like a shooting guard playing the point. Jenifer averaged 2.8 assists per game last season despite playing roughly 13 minutes on average. His 9.4 assists per 100 possessions led the team, as did his assist percentage of 26.1. It’s critical that Jenifer can set up teammates since he is usually brought in to run the second team, with players like Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks, who aren’t going to create for themselves. Jenifer, now an upperclassman, should be a nice help for the big men again, as well as for newcomers like Trevor Moore and Keith William who could certainly benefit from some easy looks as they build themselves into legitimate college contributors.

It will be interesting to see how Jenifer and Broome play together when Mick Cronin utilizes the two at the same time. Broome is a ball dominant guard but Jenifer’s best work is done when he dictates who’s getting the ball as well as where and when. Broome won’t have the same isolation-heavy usage rate on a deeper UC team, and that might mean letting Jenifer run the offense a little when those two do play together. If that’s not the case, Jenifer’s improved three-point shooting needs to continue as he will be needed as a spot-up shooter when Broome slashes.

As for the rest of the roster, Jenifer fits in quite nicely. Jacob Evans and Jarron Cumberland are both players who are more than comfortable knocking down threes and playing off ball, especially Evans. Additionally, Kyle Washington and Gary Clark just need somebody to feed them the ball.

What could really hold Jenifer back, more than Broome even, is his defensive ability. Jenifer was the only regular contributor for the Bearcats to have a defensive rating above 100 last season. While his 100.2 reading points to average rather than detrimental work, Jenifer wasn’t the stopper Troy Caupain was. Broome doesn’t project as an elite defender either so Jenifer would do well to improve in this area to push for even more minutes.

We may never see Jenifer become a 30-minute per game starting point guard, but he has a role on this team and an important one at that. As the backup point guard, Jenifer should continue to be an offensive facilitator, playing the unselfish basketball the Bearcats will need with all the scorers they’ll have on the floor.