Updated: Oct. 17, 2005, 5:51 PM ET
Reebok signs rising star Jenkins to multiyear deal
By Darren Rovell
If the tennis world is looking for the next marketable name, Scoville Jenkins might be it.
But whether the braid-toting, diamond-stud-wearing, 19-year-old African-American from Atlanta, Ga., becomes a valuable commodity is now Reebok's risk.
The shoe and apparel company signed Jenkins to a multiyear deal worth at least $100,000 a year.
"He has shown that he's one of the most proven of the young teenage talent on tour," said Jenkins' agent Tom Ross, senior vice president at Octagon, who heads up the tennis practice. "And Reebok was looking for the next great competitor since Andy [Roddick] went to Lacoste."
Jenkins has made a meteoric rise this year, moving 505 spots in the rankings to No. 262. In August, he beat No. 55 Jarkko Nieminen in New Haven, Conn., and days later took down George Bastl, then ranked No. 115, in a five-setter for his first U.S. Open match victory before losing his second-round match in straight sets to Rafael Nadal.
Since signing league-wide apparel deals with the NBA and the NFL, Reebok's commitment to signing high-profile tennis players has become more selective. The company in December signed then-15-year-old Nicole Vaidisova, who has since moved up in the rankings from No. 73 to No. 17, as well as Amelie Mauresmo in May. Reebok no longer pays for Venus Williams, though she continues to wear the brand's logos free of charge.
It's not clear what would happen to the appetite of Reebok executives in the tennis world if the proposed buyout by adidas comes to fruition, but insiders who facilitated this deal said the Jenkins decision was an autonomous decision.
Jenkins is part of a growing number of African-American prospects in men's tennis that are starting to garner attention. There has been much talk about 17-year-old Donald Young, who already has a contract with Nike; and 19-year-old Phillip Simmonds has jumped from No. 899 at the start of the year to No. 353, thanks in part to an appearance in the finals in last week's challenger event in Sacramento.
The rise of Jenkins and Simmonds also comes at a time when James Blake is playing his best tennis. Blake, who lost to Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, won this past week in Stockholm and is now ranked No. 23 in the world -- just one spot below his career high.
Blake, who has a Nike deal and is currently considering offers from almost all major racket manufacturers, is almost seven years older than Jenkins.
Jenkins has rarely been seen wearing Reebok over the last couple years, sporting the Nike swoosh almost exclusively.
Ben Sturner, president of the sports marketing firm Leverage Sports, says if Jenkins does well, there's plenty of room for both Jenkins and Blake to be appealing superstars.
"They represent two different personalities and appeal to two different age groups," Sturner said.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org