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Returing Player Refresher: Justin Jenifer

It doesn’t seem possible, but Jenifer is a senior this year. During his first three seasons, he has filled in many of the gaps for UC and received very little credit. That won’t continue in 2018-19.

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a blink and you might miss it type of career for Justin Jenifer. But that’s really only if you weren’t paying enough attention. While it certainly feels like he just got to campus, the 5’10” point guard from Baltimore is now a senior leader for the Cincinnati Bearcats.

That’s right. Jenifer has played three full seasons with UC already, and largely in the shadow of other players. He began his career at the foot of program giant Troy Caupain and last year was considered the backup before the season to transfer Cane Broome. However, early in the year, it was apparent that Jenifer’s skills were better suited for the starting lineup and that is where he played for much of the season, making 33 starts and averaging nearly 20 minutes per game.

Now what about those skills? First off, Jenifer has never been and isn’t likely to turn into a major scoring threat. He can make some shots when his number is called, but Jenifer’s real strengths lie in making the players around him look better. Only Broome averaged more assists per 100 possessions and recorded a higher assist percentage than Jenifer last year.

However, while Broome had the edge in dimes, Jenifer excelled in not only sharing the ball but keeping it under lock and key. He tied with Gary Clark for the second-lowest turnover percentage on the team (2.1) and had a total of only 24 across 704 minutes played. Careful ball handling and the occasionally spectacular drive to the rim made Jenifer a valuable offensive player, even if it didn’t always appear that way on the stat sheet. His 12.1 PER was obviously pretty low, but he was worth 1.4 offensive win shares while posting the second-highest offensive rating on the team (122.9).

Jenifer won’t be able to hide on offense and let everyone else do the scoring this season. He can do all the distributing he wants, but as a senior pegged for plenty of playing time, he will need to have a bit more offensive punch. A 35.8 percent three-point shooter during his career, there are part of his game that aren’t all that bad, but a bit more efficiency will go a long way.

Now that we’ve covered Jenifer’s unique offensive profile, it’s time to look at how he stacks up on defense. To put it simply, he’s a decent defender, but far from a great one. His size limits his ability to shut down larger perimeter players, but he still moves pretty well within UC’s scheme, creating pressure and making passing lanes shrivel up. His defensive rating of 96.3 was a bit closer to average than some of the other players on the team, and actually ranked last on the team among players who played in at least 30 games.

Once again, Jenifer can’t be hidden on defense, but he really doesn’t have to be. Relativism is a big reason for why his defensive profile doesn’t stick out. When everyone else on the team is capable of all-league defensive seasons, anything less than excellent looks weak in comparison. Don’t let that fool you. Jenifer may not be the best defender the Bearcats have to offer, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad one either.

Jenifer was once a fairly touted recruit, and now his time at UC is nearing its end. While he isn’t going to end up with his name plastered over the program’s record books, there’s no denying that he has provided far more positives than negatives during his tenure. As a senior, he will be asked to do more than ever before and should he succeed, he will be the one casting the shadow for the younger guys.