Courier Staff Writer
It’s wasn’t that long ago that Jelan Kendrick called himself a ‘rebel.’
Next year, he’ll get to call himself one again.
One year after transferring to Indian Hills from the Mississippi Rebels, Kendrick is set to make a return to major four-year college basketball next season out west. The Atlanta, Georgia native will head from the deep south, to the Midwest at IHCC, to Las Vegas as Kendrick has signed his letter of intent with the UNLV ‘Runnin’ Rebels.
“It’s been a journey and the journey hasn’t even ended yet,” Kendrick said. “I’m thankful to get the opportunity to play at UNLV and have that chance to go to another place after playing at a place like Indian Hills.”
“It’s like the Duke or Kentucky of junior college basketball her. Now I get to take that experience of playing with that kind of program to the next level.”
Kendrick showed his ability to play the game at a high level right away at IHCC. In the Warriors’ season opener, the 6-7 Kendrick excelled in various role including as point guard where Kendrick dished out six assists while scoring 16 points in a 109-84 win over Carl Sandburg.
Many spectators that night at the Hellyer Center were amazed by Kendrick’s versatility. His new head coach, however, was not among those that might have been surprised.
“Jelan’s a very talented player and we know he can do a lot of different things with that basketball,” Peery said. “He’s a guy who loves to get everyone else involved out there on the floor. We saw him as a perfect fit to our style of team.”
Kendrick’s versatile style of basketball has helped lift IHCC to a very successful start to the season. The 11th-ranked Warriors are 14-1 at the holiday break keyed largely by an up-tempo style of play that has led to IHCC averaging 106.7 points. 19.7 assists and 15.3 steals per game.
Kendrick has been right there helping move the Warriors forward, averaging 11.7 points while leading IHCC with 2.8 steals per contest. Kendrick is also a slight second on the team with 4.2 assists, just 0.1 behind team leader Gary Williams, Jr.
The ballhandling abilities of a point guard in a power forward’s body has made Kendrick a very tough player to defend.
“That’s what always helped put me above a lot of people,” Kendrick said. “Being someone with my size who can handle the ball like a smaller player has helped me get noticed.”
That versatility isn’t something Kendrick just picked up on recently. In fact, the origin of the Kendrick’s game can be traced back to the first days he ever handled the ball and his first coach - his dad Lonnie.
“It’s just something my father had me work at and it’s something I’ve continued to work at,” Kendrick said. “It’s fun to get my teammates involved like that. It’s also fun to have the guys put that trust in you. When you make a play to get other guys involved, it’s fun to see that joy on their faces.”
It’s obvious that Kendrick has been that perfect fit Peery was looking for. For Kendrick, Peery has helped make his move to IHCC a smooth transition.
“When you have a coach like the head coach we have who has a lot of confidence in you and a lot of confidence in leading the team, it’s a lot more fun,” Kendrick said. “There are some places where coaches and players don’t see eye to eye. I have a lot of respect for Coach (Peery) and he has a lot of confidence in my ability to do what I can to help lead the team.
“There will be times he’ll just tell me to do what I have to do out there. That makes it easy to fit in.”
But fitting in this smoothly wasn’t a mere formality for Kendrick, who came to IHCC after walking away from a chance to play a full four years at a power-six school. Any frustrations that might have lingered from his freshman year at Ole Miss has been long ago left behind by Kendrick.
“Things happen and you just have to move on,” Kendrick said. “I’m happy to be here at Indian Hills now and I’m happy to be headed to a UNLV team that’s ranked in the top 20.
“I’m excited to compete for a national title there next year, but I’m focused on the task at hand here. I’m not worried about the future. I’m concerned with the present.”
What Kendrick is focusing on presently is contending for the NJCAA Division I National Championship, which the Warriors played for last year at Hutchinson, Kansas. The sophomore transfer is eager to lead the Warriors back there this March.
Playing deep into March is something Kendrick is hoping to make a yearly tradition.
“Hopefully I can win a national championship here and that’s the same goal that is very achievable next year at UNLV,” Kendrick said. “I think that’s a great, great blessing. A lot of guys go into a situation in college and there’s no chance they can win a national title. I definitely have a chance to win titles at both schools.”
“I dedicate myself to doing the very best I can do in anything I work at. I’m very competitive. Sometimes people take that as an attitude, but I’m very competitive in what I do and how I want to build my game, so I work very hard at it.”
For Peery, the first half of his second season as Warriors head coach has definitely been special. Besides a successful start on the court, five of Peery’s sophomores have signed their letters with major four-year schools
“This is a special testament to these five guys that got the opportunity to sign where they did,” Peery said. “Each scenario was unique, but all five guys had my blessing to sign where they wanted to. All five were very intelligent about the process.”
Of course, Peery hopes the best is yet to come.
“I hope by the end of it, we have a big picture in the paper of nine or 10 guys that have signed with great schools,” Peery said.