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Parasiliti: Jenifer finds way to become 'green machine'

March 10, 2013|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Antonio Jenifer lives a life of extremes as a member of the Hagerstown Community College men’s basketball team.

His existence falls somewhere between being the Incredible Hulk and Kermit the Frog.

There are times when the long and lean 6-foot-8 forward is supposed to turn into the Hawks’ superhero and tear opponents to shreds.

And other times, well, it’s not easy being green.

Jenifer ran the whole gamut of emotions and identities on Saturday during HCC’s 93-84 victory over ASA College for the NJCAA District 3 title and a ticket to next week’s 24-team national tournament.

In the beginning, Jenifer started to wonder if he should have been wearing HCC’s white uniform with green trim. For the last two years, it was an outfit he wore proudly.

And in the end — mainly in the final seven minutes of the game — he released the beast and scored 17 of his game-high 32 points to finish the journey that sends HCC to its third-ever trip to Hutchinson, Kan., and its first since 1994.

The results are on paper. The process of getting there was a battle between David Banner and a Muppet.

Jenifer started the game tight and tense. His natural flow and easy method for getting into the game was missing. Instead of shooting, he was aiming. He was overly excited, and yet, he was scared.

He was usually the guy who waited for the game to come to him. This time, when that opportunity knocked, Jenifer was acting like he was hanging out a “Do Not Disturb” sign.

Then, suddenly, it hit him.

It became a matter of identity, honor, pride and image fueled by history. And in the course of the game, it was a burden that turned into a rallying point.

“I kept thinking about last year,” Jenifer said. “I kept thinking, ‘Man, I can’t do that again.’”

The end of Jenifer’s freshman year at HCC remained vivid.

A year ago today, the Hawks were returning from the Bronx, New York, where they faced regional rival Monroe for that coveted trip to Kansas. The Hawks were there, but didn’t show up.

The Mustangs stampeded to an 88-55 victory and, for a second straight year, unceremoniously dispatched the Hawks.

Jenifer battled that night, going 2-of-15 shooting and managing just seven points to complete what had been an All-American season.

One district failure was enough for Jenifer.

“I had to put the team on my back,” he said.

HCC hung around Saturday, staying in the game as players took turns leading the way until Jenifer stepped out of the phone booth.

Donte Thomas scored 18 of HCC’s 40 first-half points, allowing the Hawks to take a tie to the locker room at the intermission. Jerel Carter spread the wealth among the Hawks with 11 assists. And Kervin Rameau provided two impact baskets — one a dunk, the other a 3 — to give HCC an edge.

They were all encouraging — and waiting for — Jenifer to make his appearance.

It took a while. He started 0-for-7 from 3-point range. Many of them didn’t touch the rim. The basket seemed a little higher on this day.

“I was a little scared to shoot,” Jenifer said. “Everyone kept telling me to keep shooting. Coach (Barry Brown) kept telling me to shoot. I told myself that I couldn’t stop. I’d rather go down missing than not trying.”

Brown was confident that the beast within Jenifer would peak out from under his No. 10 eventually.

“I sat on the bench and kept saying, ‘As soon as he hits one …’” Brown said.

For two years, Brown had seen Jenifer light up like a department store Christmas display at Halloween. Jenifer knew he had that confidence on his lillypad.

“Down the stretch, who do we want to have the ball?” Brown asked Jenifer earlier in the week.

“Me, Coach,” Jenifer replied.

That time finally came.

Jenifer eased back into the game. He got himself right by turning up his aggressiveness.

It was time to feel the rage and go green.

“I started to take the ball inside and try to get to the foul line,” Jenifer said. “Getting to the line … that would help me get my shot back.”

He hit 5 of 6 foul shots in the first 11:30 of the second half. By then, Thomas and Rameau had done their thing — keeping the stage warm for Jenifer.

“I was just trying to do anything I could to help the team until Tony started to do what he does,” Rameau said.

After Rameau’s 3 gave HCC a 58-55 lead with 10:06 remaining, Jenifer went to work. 

He hit a 10-footer to put HCC up 65-60 with 7:31 to go. Then, he turned monstrous.

The next two times down the floor, Jenifer connected on a pair of 3-pointers, the second with 5:53 remaining to put the Hawks up 71-65.

He was back to being Incredible.

Jenifer went on to score 23 second-half points, including 17 in the final seven minutes to help HCC pull away.

He made sure last year wasn’t going to happen again.

“He did what he had to do when it counted,” Brown said. “He did it in the most adverse situation in the most important of games. That’s a big time player. That’s an All-American.”

Jenifer also had another incentive in the back of his mind.

“My mom came to see me play,” he said. “I couldn’t let her down.”

Suddenly, the hulking prince became a frog again.

And this time, Antonio Jenifer allowed HCC to get a victory that made other teams turn green ... with envy.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358, or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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