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Justin Jenifer: An Appreciation

Jenifer was a steady force at point guard, helping to facilitate the offense while developing his own scoring ability, especially from three, as he progressed through his career.

Iowa v Cincinnati Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Career Numbers

  • 4.8 points per game
  • 2.2 assists per game
  • 1.1 rebounds per game
  • .409/.398/.730 shooting splits

The Cincinnati Bearcats have made a whole bunch of moves in the offseason to address their needs in the backcourt. Of course, those needs were only cropping up because of roster turnover, including the graduation of Justin Jenifer, who was one of the most critical players of the 2018-19 season and much of the last four overall for the Bearcats. The team’s starting point guard in each of the last two years, Jenifer played a large role in bringing balance to the backcourt and wins to the Bearcats. Now that he has graduated, its time to take a look back at his four years at UC and appreciate what he contributed and how difficult it will be to replace him.

Jenifer was a 2015 recruit who carried a bit of hype into his Bearcat career. However, as a freshman, he was relegated to limiting playing opportunities, which was the norm for most rookies under the tutelage of Mick Cronin, especially since Troy Caupain had the starting point guard post locked down. Jenifer did play in 27 games but only averaged 8.6 minutes per contest while shooting 36.2 percent from the field. Of course, the Bearcats were not really looking for the 5’10” guard to be a volume scorer but rather a potentially unstoppable distributor who could run the point. Jenifer did exhibit some of that skill, with a 27.3 percent assist rate but he also turned the ball over far too frequently (20.1 percent turnover rate). Considering he was a freshman and wasn’t given an extensive chance to prove himself, the hope was that this first foray was a foundation to build from.

The construction continued in Jenifer’s sophomore season when he became a trusted reserve, ranking seventh on the team in minutes played (12.7 per game). He served as the backup point guard to Caupain and began to flash the three-point shooting skill that would be a hallmark of his game as a senior. He connected on 37.8 percent from long range on 1.3 attempts per game while shooting 41.1 percent from the floor overall. He also drastically improved his ball security and turned the ball over 16 times in 445 minutes after recording 17 turnovers in 232 minutes as a freshman. With fewer mistakes on his ledger, Jenifer and his 26.1 percent assist rate shone brighter and helped him finish the season with an offensive rating of 118.1.

Going into his junior year, it was unclear if Jenifer’s role would change for the Bearcats. Although Caupain had graduated, Cane Broome was eligible to play after transferring, making for a competition at point guard once more. Broome won the starting job for the season opener and even as Jenifer logged 15 points and five assists off the bench in that game, he only started once in the first four contests of the campaign. However, beginning with a matchup against Richmond on Nov. 21, 2017, he would start every game he played the rest of his career.

As he earned his role in the starting lineup, Jenifer continued to show an exceptional skill for seeing the floor and anticipating how plays would develop all while being careful with the ball. He shaved his turnover rate down to 12.8 percent and although his assist rate went down, he still ranked second on the team at 22.1 percent. Jenifer found himself shooting a bit more as well, which was only logical since he was playing more than ever. Although he would average a then career-high 4.8 points on 3.8 field goal attempts per game, Jenifer did have trouble with his efficiency. He shot a solid 35.7 percent from three but just 36.5 percent overall. That dropped his effective field goal percentage to a personal-worst mark of 47.4 percent while his player efficiency rating fell below 13 for the first time in his career. Although he showed some regression on offense, he made improvements on defense and finished with a rating of 96.3, which is a mark that would stand as the best of his career.

Entering this past season, Jenifer had to know he would be asked to do more as a senior. Although Jarron Cumberland would shoulder much of the burden after the departure of Gary Clark, Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington, Jenifer had to step up as well. He fulfilled that responsibility by turning into an absolutely devastatingly efficient three-point shooter while continuing to display the same excellent court vision and decision making from his first three seasons. He made a scorching 44.4 percent of his threes on four attempts per game, leading to his best scoring average ever (8.6 points per game) and a true shooting rate of better than 60 percent. Add in a 21.7 percent assist rate compared with a 9.4 percent turnover rate and Jenifer ended up compiling 2.6 offensive win shares, which was more than he produced his first three seasons combined.

While none of these numbers were enough to shatter records or earn Jenifer a spot on any all-league team, his efforts were vital to UC’s run of success during the last four seasons.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Best of the Best

Nov. 15, 2015 vs. Robert Morris

In just his second career game, Jenifer scored 11 points and handed out nine assists, giving us all visions of Chris Paul in a Bearcats jersey.

Nov. 22, 2015 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Jenifer hit multiple three pointers for the first time in his career, going 2-for-4 from distance to finish with eight points in 19 minutes. He would knock down at least two triples in a game just once more that season while averaging only 1.4 points and 0.9 assists the rest of the campaign.

Nov. 14, 2016 vs. Albany

Jenifer played a then career-high 27 minutes in his first game of the 2016-17 season against Brown but in the second against Albany he had a superior line of six points, five assists and three steals,

Dec. 4, 2016 vs. Bowling Green

In the first real example of how Jenifer could change a game with his three-point shooting, the then sophomore drained 4-of-5 from long range and tallied 14 points in total.

Dec. 13, 2016 vs. Texas Southern

Jenifer’s passing was the highlight of this game, as he dished out nine assists to go with eight points of his own.

Dec. 17, 2016 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson

With 13 points and five assists, Jenifer helped the Bearcats score 119 points in a win against the Knights.

Jan. 29, 2017 vs. USF

Jenifer’s playing time waned as the conference schedule kicked into gear, but he made the most of 28 minutes against the Bulls, finishing with 12 points and nine assists.

Nov. 16, 2017 vs. Coppin State

After scoring 15 points in the season opener, Jenifer was even better in the third game of the year, making 4-of-5 from three-point range and 4-for-4 at the foul line to score 16 points.

Dec. 21, 2017 vs. Cleveland State

Jenifer totaled a season-high seven assists and also collected a pair of steals in 23 minutes.

Dec. 31, 2017 vs. Memphis

A 3-for-6 showing from the floor yielded seven points to go with four assists and two steals.

Jan. 4, 2018 at Temple

Jenifer played more than 30 minutes for the first time in his career and scored nine points to go with three assists in this two-point win against the Owls.

Jan. 7, 2018 vs. SMU

Although he only made 1-of-3 shots from the floor, Jenifer got to the free-throw line six times, made four of his shots there and finished with seven points and four assists.

Feb. 6, 2018 vs. UCF

Volume shooting was not always Jenifer’s thing, but he took nine shots from three-point range and knocked down three of them, ultimately logging an 11-point effort.

Feb. 11, 2018 at SMU and Feb. 25, 2018 vs. Tulsa

In both of these games, Jenifer made multiple three-pointers and tallied five assists.

Nov. 13, 2018 vs. NC Central

Now a senior, Jenifer put together 10 points, six assists and two steals.

Nov. 27, 2018 vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff

In only 16 minutes, Jenifer scored 13 points, hitting three triples in the process.

Dec. 8, 2018 vs. Xavier

In his final Crosstown Shootout, Jenifer struggled with his shot (1-for-5), but handed out nine assists.

Jan. 2, 2019 vs. Tulane

Jenifer had five assists and made multiple threes in each of the previous two games but in the AAC opener against the Green Wave he was unstoppable, going 4-for-5 from three while scoring 18 points to go along with five helpers.

Jan. 19, 2019 at Wichita State

It was rare to see Jenifer just be a scorer but despite the fact that he did not record an assist, rebound or steal, he still managed 17 points on 4-of-5 shooting and a 7-of-8 effort from the foul line.

Jan. 24, 2019 vs. Tulsa

Six three-pointers later, Jenifer had himself 18 points.

Feb. 7, 2019 at Memphis

Jenifer dazzled from three-point range again, knocking down 4-of-9 from three and scoring 14 points overall.

Feb. 21, 2019 vs. UCF

Scoring 12 points might not seem like a huge deal, but Jenifer’s heroics in the final minutes helped the Bearcats earn a critical win against the Knights.

Editor’s note: This game was not included in the original post but has since been added.

March 15, 2019 vs. SMU

The Mustangs could not stop Jenifer in the AAC tourney, with the Bearcats’ point guard knocking down all five of his shots from three and all six of his attempts overall during a 17-point performance.

March 22, 2019 vs. Iowa

Although this first-round NCAA Tournament game ended in a loss, Jenifer played his best in his final game, scoring a career-high 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting in 35 minutes.

A Final Goodbye

During his tenure as a Bearcat, the program won multiple AAC titles, including both the regular season and tournament crowns in 2017-18. Jenifer’s precise passing, creative handles, dedication to ball security and clutch three-point shooting went a long way in delivering that kind of success. Whoever plays point guard for the program going forward will have to live up to that.