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Original Issue

The Guy Who Never Gave Up

At age 30, 6'1" Pistons point guard Horace Jenkins is the oldest rookie in the NBA and one of the oldest in league history. Jenkins was 11 when he told his mom he would play in the NBA, but he took a circuitous route to the top.

1974 On Oct. 14 Jenkins is born--to be a football star, he thinks, until, as an eighth-grader in Elizabeth, N.J., he realizes he doesn't like practicing outdoors in cold weather, so he focuses on hoops. He plays point guard, not because he idolizes Magic Johnson (though he does) but because "I was always the smallest one."

1993 Graduates from Elizabeth High after being mostly a backup for three years, then sitting out his senior season due to academic ineligibility. He enrolls in New Jersey's Union County College, where he averages 18.4 points per game as a freshman.

1994 Drops out of college to care for infant son Hakim. "It was one of the better decisions I've made," says Jenkins. He works as an electrician for two years, then takes an $11-an-hour job with a Scandinavian postal company in the U.S. "It was tough to walk away from a dream," says Jenkins, "but it was my responsibility and I was willing to shoulder it."

1998 (Summer) Playing pro-am ball in Newark, he is noticed by William Paterson coach Jose Rebimbas. "The first possession he came down an outdoor court and hit an NBA three at 100 miles per hour. I thought, Who's that kid?" said Rebimbas. "Afterward I handed him my business card and said, 'It takes me 45 minutes to get home. If you're serious about going back to school, I'll expect to hear from you in 45 minutes.' As I walked up the stairs to my house I heard my wife say, 'O.K., I'll give him the message.'"

1998 (Fall) Enrolls as a sophomore communications major. He will lead the Division III Pioneers to two Final Fours, earn three national player of the year awards and set school records for points (1,940) and single-season scoring average (27.1 ppg).

2001 Not drafted after being projected to go in the first round. "That was probably one of the toughest things," said Jenkins, who attended two predraft camps. "I did everything I was supposed to do. I just took it as a test from God." Moves to Italy to play for Aironi Novara, then for Virtus Roma.

2003 Moves to Greece and averages 20 points for AEK Athens. Is spotted by Pistons president Joe Dumars, watching tapes to keep tabs on draft pick Andreas Glyniadakis. "I kept seeing this other guy ... really fast, pushing the ball up, scoring," Dumars told the Detroit Free Press. "Soon my staff and I were saying ... 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'"

2004 (Summer) Gets invited by the Pistons to play in a summer league. "He knew that because of his age, this would be the last opportunity," said Rebimbas. Jenkins averaged 8.2 points and 2.8 assists. He lands a guaranteed one-year contract for about $385,000 with Detroit. "When I got the call from my agent, I was driving and I had to pull over," said Jenkins, who's married and has two daughters, Hanasia and Hamyah, in addition to Hakim. "I needed a moment to just exhale, to let out a sigh of relief."

2004 (Fall) Marvels at the five-star hotels and NBA "royalty treatment." Assigned to play the point behind Chauncey Billups and Lindsey Hunter and averages 3.7 points in 7.8 minutes a game. "He's gotten a lot better," Billups told New Jersey's Herald News. "[He has] not gotten too excited and not let this whole thing break him down."

2004 (December) Gets put on injured reserve for "back spasms." Rumors of being traded to Bulls.

2005 Is back on the active roster by February. "This is a big opportunity," says Jenkins, who had eight points in a win over L.A. last month. "I've got to try to go out there and do more, and I have no problem with that. I'm a person who refuses to fail."

--Amanda Cherrin