Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
LANSDOWNE — Larenzo Jerkins spent his freshman year watching, waiting, and learning.
The Chester High School sophomore forward joined the Clippers’ varsity squad in his first year in Keith Taylor’s program, but there was a major roadblock in his way. Karell Watkins, a four-year starter, was in the last year of his outstanding Chester career, steamrolling his way to more than 1,400 career points and multiple All-State honors.
Jerkins saw spare minutes throughout the year, scoring a grand total of 15 points. Watkins’ unending production — the 6-foot-4 forward averaged 23 points and 12 rebounds as a senior — prevented the youngster from getting much on-court varsity experience.
Larenzo Jerkins (above) has stepped up to fill the role left by Karell Watkins the last four years. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“I learned a lot from him, offensive-wise and defensive-wise to hustle on plays, never give up, and know your advantages,” Jerkins said, “and learn to play how you play every game — don’t play down to somebody else’s competition.”
While he was taking all that in, Jerkins was also plotting, planning to do more than just fill the void Watkins was to leave in the lineup upon his graduation.
“I was seeing everything that he did in a positive way, in a negative way, and everything he did negatively, I was going to try to build on that,” he said. “My goal is not to be Karell, but to be better.”
That’s an awfully big statement to make, but Jerkins has every intention of backing it up.
The 6-5 sophomore is doing his best thus far, as he’s gone from a little-used backup to the centerpiece of the Clippers attack in the span of one offseason. Jerkins continued his impressive second varsity campaign with a 25-point, 13-rebound effort on Thursday night, helping Chester hold off Penn Wood in a 68-54 Del-Val League win.
It was the 39th straight Del Val win in a row for Chester, which also beat Penn Wood for the 10th straight time.
Just like he has been in most of Chester’s games this season, Jerkins was a problem for Penn Wood all night long, from his seven-point, five-rebound first quarter all the way through the end, when he scored six points in a key fourth quarter for the Clippers.
“Lorenzo looked up to Karell,” Chester coach Keith Taylor said. “Matter of fact, we just got finished talking about that downstairs in the locker room, how much Lorenzo favors the things that Karell used to do for us.
“The kid wants to be good, he wants to be good, and he’s constantly working, always in the gym, never wants to leave,” Taylor added. “That’s the type of attitude you need to have if you want to get better, and he does.”
Jerkins, like Watkins, is a face-up ‘4’ man who’s at his most dangerous from 15 feet and closer, an excellent second-effort giver who doesn’t give up on loose balls around the rim, who isn’t afraid to muscle through a few defenders just to get to the bucket. Defensively, he uses his long arms well as a primary or secondary shot-blocker, a constant deterrent to opposing guards thinking about attacking the rim.
“Having to step up at the top to try to lead the team, defensively and offensively, to try to know the plays and stuff like that, is very difficult because I went from sitting on the bench my 9th grade year and only playing a couple minutes, dropping 15 points throughout the whole season, to dropping 23 and 15 every game,” he said. “It’s a huge role for me, and I’m just glad I’m here.”
The Clippers forced 24 turnovers to disrupt the Patriots’ offense in Thursday night’s win, and while they let from start-to-finish, it wasn’t without some drama.
Penn Wood trailed by 10 at halftime (33-23) but found momentum late in the third quarter, getting a big dunk from junior wing Mekhi Shillingsford (16 points) and 3-pointer from sophomore Anthony Murray (8 points) to help them get within three points late in the quarter, trailing by six entering the fourth.
ButChester shot 11-of-12 from the foul line and 23-of-28 from the game to help them seal the win. Jerkins was 11-of-12 from the foul line, but Terrence Cobb, Breilynd White and Kyree Womack all went 2-of-2 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.
Senior Isaiah Freeman added six points and 16 rebounds, five on the offensive end.
With the win over Penn Wood, Chester (10-3, 5-0) all but wrapped up the title of the five-team Del-Val League, whose eight-game, round-robin regular season is its only decider. Penn Wood (7-4, 2-3) was the only other team that realistically had a chance against the Clippers, having taken them to double OT in their first meeting, but it’s unlikely anybody else can catch the storied program.
Chester, which is ranked No. 2 in the unofficial District 1 5A power rankings after its win, has bigger goals ahead as always, and the future remains bright under Taylor.
“We’ve got a lot to work on, but [...] by our 12th-grade year, you guys definitely have to watch. It’s going to be exciting, I’m telling you,” Jerkins said. “Probably next year, because we’re putting in work.”
It might not even be that long.
“These guys are still young,” Taylor said. “I’m pushing them, pushing them hard, trying to make them better than what they are. And they believe in that, so that’s what we’re doing, we’re just trying to make them believe that they can do the impossible.”
Chester: 15 | 18 | 16 | 19 || 68
Penn Wood: 7 | 16 | 20 | 11 || 54
Chester: 21-65 FG (3-12 3PT), 23-28 FT
Penn Wood: 19-58 FG (3-17 3PT), 13-23 FT
Chester: Lorenzo Jerkins 25, Breilynd White 14, Kevin Rucker 7, Isaiah Freeman 6, Quadir Lowrie 5, Kyree Woamck 5, Yinka Itabiyi 4, Terrence Cobb 2
Penn Wood: Mekhi Shillingsford 16, Anthony Murray 8, Naeem Purnell 8, Sahmir Massenburg 6, Evan Borward 6, Sadiq Fountain 5, Jalen Mahan 3, Kelvin Crawford 2