By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Jenkins is a familiar face for European basketball fans and one of the most well-known and respected US players in Europe for the last decade. And while the season of Olympiacos ended, since the Greek club is the only one in Europe playing exclusively in the EuroLeague, Jenkins will continue his season as a member of LENOVO Tenerife.
It’s an unusual turn of events, after an unusual season with Olympiacos for an unusual import player who made his name in Europe not by scoring the ball but by playing defense. And Eurohoops had the chance to talk with him about the season with the Greeks which ended up missing the playoffs, his career, and the next chapter in Tenerife.
– Do you think that this is by far the craziest season for everyone and of course I am talking about COVID?
Yeah, it’s definitely strange. This is my eighth season playing in EuroLeague and first of all, I had the opportunity to play for Olympiacos. When you think about Olympiacos, you think about the tradition of the club and of Gate 7. So having a season with an empty gym was totally strange. From there, to play a Greek derby without fans and then to go to all those gyms that are normally packed against Olympiacos when the team is coming to town, was definitely a different feel.
– Do you feel that that you didn’t have also had the chance, like all teams right now due to COVID, to spend time together outside the court and really gel as a team?
I don’t think that’s why just because there was an opportunity to get closer. There weren’t any restaurants open, or outdoor things for us to do, but we spent a lot of time with each other, practicing because we played only one game per week. So I don’t think that this situation played that much of a role. Even in teams that I have been on before the guys weren’t always going out together like that. So I wouldn’t use that as an excuse.
– What do you think really went wrong?
I don’t know. There are many things that could have been better, but speaking about the actual basketball part, there were a lot of close games which we lost and they came back to hurt us down the line. From the first loss of the season against Zalgiris to the home loss against ASVEL and then the game against Zalgiris on the road. Those three games… If we won those three, we would have been in the playoffs, 100%. It came down to one possession against Real Madrid at home. That game I felt we could also have won. We also had the chance against CSKA Moscow with Mike James at the end. We were on the wrong side of so many games, so many close games that we lost. Of course, there were some things that we could all have done better to change the results. But ultimately on the basketball part, despite all the difficulties, despite no fans, and while adapting to a brand new team we were still in a position to win games.
– So as you said before you feel sad because you didn’t have the chance to build something more sustainable with Olympiacos and get back to the playoffs?
For sure. That was my main goal coming to the club. I’m a bit sad cause I really like Olympiacos for years and I wanted to be a part of the team that got them back to the playoffs. Of course, I have played against Billy (Spanoulis) so many times, I have heard so many stories about what kind of person he is, how he always talks about the final four, and nothing less. We have talked about Olympiacos with Milan Tomic. Coming in here, I wanted to do my best to help the team. I knew my role, I knew I had a defensive role and I am taking pride in that. That would give other guys the opportunity to get more freedom on offense. Still, overall, we ended up falling short.
– Does Giorgos Bartzokas remain one of your favorite coaches?
Without a doubt. I have even more respect for the coach, he gave me the opportunity to play here. This was one of the clubs that always wanted to play for. I remember that when Janis Timma came to Khimki, I told him that one day I wanted also to play for Olympiacos. The fact that it happened was amazing, the experience itself, even if that was not the story that I wanted to write and tell about how we finished.
– You have been under a pressure situation in Zvezda, it was probably the same in Olympiacos. Do you feel that this kind of passion really makes special European basketball but also on some occasions is a double-edged sword?
I think that’s life in general. There’s always pressure in people have among themselves. I experienced it here and I understand it. Since I have been to Europe, Olympiacos has built quite a big reputation. So whenever there’s a shift and there’s something unfamiliar especially to the club, you expect that kind of pressure. In the last years with only one game per week, there’s more time to focus on the main goal which is the EuroLeague and you expect that. You have a lot of tradition, you have a lot of great players that won with Olympiacos or in other places. So coming here, I was expecting everything. I have heard stories from past players and being in the team I experienced that. Everyone wants to win a EuroLeague championship, or the playoffs, or the Final Four. So anything less than that will create some questions about us.
– Import players in Europe usually feel the need to score. What made you so special, building a career on defense?
It’s just because I know my role. I have played in teams where we had guys who could score a lot of points, but there weren’t a lot of guys who were playing defense. Everyone knows that about me. I wasn’t coming here with that kind of mindset. I wasn’t going to be an amazing scorer, I want to win. I played also for Red Star where I had an offensive role because the team needed that and also had success there. But in the bigger clubs, I went to, my role was to play defense and I had no problem with that. I played against the majority of the guys on the team and I felt that if I was able to bring my defensive ability in order to give them freedom, to give them the opportunity to save our energy for offense. That’s all about me being able to make sacrifices for the better of the team.
– Do you feel special in that way? Because you are one of the very few import players who have made a career like that.
Of course, it’s a pride thing for me. It’s something that I had to do and I take a lot of pride in doing it. Guarding the opposing team’s best player and is really important. When it comes to that, it’s a no-brainer for me. And I am also blessed to not have the same pressure that other Americans have on their teams where their offensive stats matter, no matter if they are doing their job right or not.
– You are now moving to the third-best team of the Liga Endesa standings. That proves your value, but do you also have a chip on your shoulder because of the season with Olympiacos?
I want to go there and help. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk with the coach yet, I don’t know where exactly does he see me and how he wants me to help the team. And while what happened with Olympiacos this season is unfortunate, I don’t want to go there, to another team that is already really good and has success and try to prove something. I want to go in there and do the best that I can to help them continue to have the great season that they are having.
– What do you expect from the style of play in Liga Endesa?
I didn’t get to experience it yet, but I heard so much about it, that they play a much faster game. It’s my first time for sure, but I have also played for coach Radonjic in Serbia, who also likes to play fast. So I don’t think that it would take so long to adjust. I have to go there, find my place on the team and do my best to help them.
– Do you feel a little bit European at this point in your life?
Yes. I mean next year it would be my 11th in Europe, so for sure, I feel I am.
– And compared to your days in Moscow, do you feel a little bit more comfortable in the South?
The most important thing is that basketball doesn’t really change. I do a pretty good job at it, no matter where. Of course, the weather, Greece and now in Spain is good. But I am here to play basketball and as long that’s the case, I would be comfortable no matter what.