MHERST - Everything comes out with a "yes sir" or a "no sir," punctuated by a Tennessee drawl that makes talking to Willie Jenkins a rather nice experience.
And according to reports about the University of Massachusetts freshman, watching him play basketball will be even nicer.
"He probably started practice the farthest along of the new players," said University of Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint, who has raved about the work ethic of the 6-foot-6 forward from Memphis. "That surprised me. His work habits have been great."
Jenkins signed in May as the last player added to this year's UMass puzzle, but he is not an afterthought. Wake Forest and Ohio State were also interested, and Memphis was considered, too, though Jenkins liked the idea of going somewhere away from home.
Besides, John Calipari's roster was filling up, and if Jenkins wasn't going to play for the Tigers, the new Memphis coach had an idea of where he might fit in.
"Coach Calipari saw me at an AAU game, and we talked about me coming up here," Jenkins said. "And coach Flint reminds me of a coach I had back home."
Jenkins reminds Flint of Lou Roe and Dana Dingle, at least in terms of work ethic. That's very high praise for a player whose style contrasts that of more publicized UMass freshman Jameel Pugh — a 6-5 high-wire act who could wind up sharing time with Jenkins at small forward or shooting guard.
"As a player, Willie is the total opposite of Jameel," said Flint, noting the flamboyance of Pugh's game. "But Willie can shoot, and I put his work ethic up there with Lou and Dana, who I think have been our two hardest working players since I've been at UMass."
Flint puts a huge premium on work effort and preparation, especially with untested players. He has flexibility with Jenkins, whose natural position is forward but who could slide into the shooting-guard spot, especially if Monty Mack is occasionally used at the point.
"The pressure on our new guys is not so much to perform but to prepare, mentally and physically," he said. "That's the big thing with these guys."
Jenkins' shooting touch is a welcome addition to a UMass lineup that is looking for ways to take the perimeter pressure off Mack.
Jenkins averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds and three assists as a senior at Fairley High School in Memphis, where he earned honorable mention as an all-state player and saw his stock continue to rise at Nike camp and on the AAU circuit.
He knows life is about to get more challenging.
"In high school, you get used to coming down and making the easy pass, but in college Division I, every pass has to be nice and crisp," he said. "But I think I can dribble and shoot like a 3 (small forward), though I'll do whatever the team needs. Yes sir."
He says UMass has talent that is already helping him improve.
"Micah Brand, Monty Mack, Shannon Crooks — to me, these are some of the best players in the nation," Jenkins said. "This has been a great experience so far."
But the adjustment is still underway for Jenkins, who was born in Michigan — the city of Flint, ironically — before locating in the South. "Monty Mack has already told me to invest in some good boots," he said. "I am not used to this climate yet. No sir."