Articulate with an introspective personality, Jelan Kendrick might not fit the stereotype of a basketball player who is at his fourth college because his first two stops were failures for disciplinary reasons.
He has what is referred to as a troubled past, something he doesn’t run from while also refusing to be defined by it.
“There are people from the outside looking in,” he said, “and this is a world where perception is reality.”
Kendrick will start at a guard spot for UNLV (1-0) when it hosts UC Santa Barbara (1-0) at 7 p.m. today at the Thomas &Mack Center, and the 6-foot-6-inch junior is starting over in a sense.
He’s still the former McDonald’s All-American from Atlanta who made ill-fated stops at Memphis and Mississippi, still with a lot to prove as a player and a person. But today and tomorrow are more important to him than yesterday or what went down more than two years ago.
In November 2010, Kendrick was dismissed by Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who already had suspended him twice, for issues related to a negative attitude. Kendrick never played in a game for the Tigers.
He transferred to Mississippi, but in March 2012, after reportedly having several run-ins with teammates and coaches, Kendrick walked into the stands to get his girlfriend and left the arena before a game against Alabama. He was suspended and left the program three months later.
That’s how he wound up at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa, where Rebels coach Dave Rice and assistant Heath Schroyer caught up with a kid who said he was maturing into a man.
“We talked to people who had coached him or had known him,” Rice said. “I spent hours talking to J.K. just about his background, his feelings and things that had happened. It was a two-way process, and he was doing the same thing with me and our program.
“Over time, I just felt comfortable with the fact he had adversity, he owned up to his part of it and he looked forward to getting another opportunity.”
Kendrick had no criminal background. If anything, he was guilty of teenage immaturity when he arrived at Memphis as a hyped recruit.
“It was a big growing-up adjustment. I was a kid and I didn’t know how to handle certain situations,” he said. “In my mind and my heart, I was still a kid. You still sleep with your night light on and watch cartoons. I had a teddy bear and everything, a big Scooby-Doo teddy bear.
“I was young and I was immature, and I had to find a balance between basketball, being a kid and dealing with grown-men situations. When I was a child, I did as a child, and now I’m a man.”
He had no support system or role models to lean on, Kendrick said, and outsiders had no idea what was going on his life when he made the wrong kinds of headlines at Memphis and Mississippi.
“I made a great effort to change my life around and start doing things the right way, not saying I did things totally wrong back then,” he said. “I’ve never failed a drug test, I’ve never had a DUI, I’ve never been in trouble for doing something with a girl, I’ve never had an ‘F’ in school, so what kind of bad kid am I?
“I haven’t been in trouble in 2½ years. I can’t help what other people think. You should believe that people can change for the better.”
Kendrick has made enough of a positive impression at UNLV that he was named the team representative to the Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
“The other thing that speaks volumes about him is that he has done very well academically,” Rice said.
Kendrick played 23 minutes in his debut for the Rebels on Friday, recording five points, four rebounds, four steals and three assists in a 67-48 victory over Portland State. He describes himself as a “playmaker” more than point guard or shooting guard.
“He’s a capable scorer, but in a lot of respects he feels more comfortable being a facilitator. He’s a very well-rounded player with a high basketball IQ,” Rice said. “J.K. is at his best on the offensive end when the ball is in hands and he’s making plays for others.”
Kendrick and junior guard Bryce Dejean-Jones, who is expected to return from a hamstring injury and play an undetermined role today, have grown close because they have a lot in common, including being fiercely competitive players who had run-ins with teammates at past stops.
“Bryce is a very hard worker. We both have a competitive edge. I’m really happy to have someone like him on my team where we can push each other to get better,” Kendrick said.
“I’m glad that God blessed me to be in this position right now. I’m moving forward in my life. To me, those other things are far behind me.”
■ NOTES — UCSB opened with a 76-50 victory over Hawaii-Pacific, led by 27 points and 17 rebounds from 6-7 forward Alan Williams. ... The Rebels won the teams’ last meeting, 94-88 in double overtime in 2011 in Santa Barbara, stopping the Gauchos’ four-game win streak in the series.
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.