We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Columbia is next because the Buck stops here…
If he is not the best player to ever suit up for the Columbia Lions men’s basketball team, Leonard “Buck” Jenkins is certainly in the discussion. Jenkins culminated his Lions career as the school’s all-time leading scorer, a mark which still stands more than 20 years later. Before stepping on the floor at Levien Gymnasium for the first time, Jenkins was already known as the all-time leading scorer at Woodbridge High School. He led the Lions in scoring from his sophomore through his senior season, the last of which culminated in Columbia basketball’s first ever Ivy Player of the Year Award in 1993 (the honor was first bestowed in 1975), splitting the award with Jerome Allen from Penn’s 14-0 squad. That year, Jenkins led the Lions to a 15-10 overall record and a 10-4 mark in Ivy play, including a 4-0 start. Columbia finished second behind Penn that year, the team has not won more than eight games or finished higher than third in any season since. This certainly would have been a postseason team had the NCAA landscape looked in 1993 as it does in 2015 and Jenkins was the key reason why.
Two years after setting Columbia’s single-game scoring record (more on that next week), Jenkins set his sights on Jim McMillian’s career scoring record. Jenkins ambushed the league, not to the degree of his 47-point game two seasons earlier, but to the tune of a still incredible 22.2 points per game. Columbia’s best team in a generation was led by Jenkins and senior center Tom Casey, who averaged 13 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Jenkins was the focal point of the offense, was an elite wing defender, and was almost always on the floor, playing more than 88 percent of possible minutes. He rarely got into foul trouble despite having a target on his back on both ends of the floor for the third straight season.
Following a loss on Senior Night to Penn that put the Lions three games back with just two to play, all of the focus was on Jenkins’ pursuit of McMillian’s career scoring record. Going into the final weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth, Jenkins needed 47 points while averaging around 22 points per game at that point in the season. He put on a show Friday, March 5 against lowly Harvard, dropping 37 points in a seven-point loss that likely ended Columbia’s slim NIT hopes. Nevertheless, Jenkins went into his Columbia basketball finale just 10 points from the career scoring mark and while the game was dramatic, the pursuit of McMillian’s record was not.
Before the first half was over, Jenkins surpassed the mark, nailing a three-pointer with just over six minutes to play before the break in Hanover. The game was stopped and Jenkins was handed the game ball while the crowd and both teams cheered him on. At 1,579 points, he was now the most prolific scorer in Columbia history. After the game, Jenkins told the Columbia Spectator he was proud of his accomplishment but wanted it noted that McMillian not only reached his scoring mark in one fewer season, but also did so without the three-point line. The break in the game clearly did not break Jenkins’ concentration that night, as he nailed the game-tying jumper in the final minutes of a two-point Columbia victory. When the night was over, Jenkins had 1,767 points in a Columbia Lions jersey, and soon thereafter would make his third consecutive All-Ivy team. Jenkins was a great scorer, a great leader and an icon from the best Columbia team in generations.