The Bill Buckner of Husky Basketball, to some, Jensen has had his entire career defined by one play.
With a trip to the 2006 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals on the line, Jensen committed a personal foul that has, for better or worse, lived in relative infamy.
Armed with a four-point lead and roughly 11 seconds left in the game, Jensen made a defensive play on Connecticut’s Marcus Williams, only to foul him on a made layup. The basket cut Washington’s lead to two. The ensuing free throw narrowed it to one.
On the following possession, Brandon Roy was fouled and sent to the line. He knocked down both free throws, stretching Washington’s lead back out to three.
With 7.9 seconds remaining, Connecticut inbounded the ball, advanced it upcourt, and tied the game on a Rashad Anderson three-pointer. The contest went into overtime, where Washington succumbed to UConn and fell short of an Elite Eight appearance.
Yeah, it was a stupid play. Jensen should never have committed a foul at that point in the game and we all knew it.
But consider the alternative.
If Williams scores that layup uncontested, Washington’s lead is two points with 11 seconds remaing. Connecticut could steal the inbounds pass, or the Huskies could split a pair at the line. Either way, there’s still a good chance that UConn gets the opportunity to tie or win the ballgame.
And can you really fault Jensen for the effort?
Had he let Williams take the ball in with no resistance, Jensen would have been criticized for not making a play, for not caring. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It’s unfortunate because in the grand scheme of his Husky career, Jensen was arguably one of the greatest role players the program has ever had.
Alongside the likes of Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Bobby Jones, and Will Conroy, Jensen was the guy who was ready and willing to do it all.
A 6’8″ shooting center (think shooting guard-plus-center) with bleached-blonde hair and an enigma of a tattoo on his shoulder, Jensen stuck out like the sorest of thumbs amidst his more average-looking teammates.
From 2002 to 2006, Jensen consistently held his own against bigger opponents who populated the Pac-10. Undersized and underappreciated, he played a vital role in the Huskies’ offensive gameplan, spreading defenses with his perimeter shooting, and controlling the interior for Washington’s bevy of guards.
In 2004, Jensen hit a game-winning three-pointer to knock off Washington State at home. A clutch shot that, in the context of the team’s turnaround season, couldn’t have been much bigger.
A year later, in 2005, Jensen pieced together the game of his life, carrying the Huskies to a three-point victory over a very good Stanford club. He finished with 17 points and seven rebounds that day.
And damn if that dude didn’t rule the opening tipoff for his entire career. Ask anyone who attended all or most of Washington’s games from ’03 to ’06. When it came to the opening tip, Jensen, in spite of his stature, was a monster.
For those that have met Jensen (aka “Scooter,” a nickname derived from his penchant for riding a motorized scooter around the UW campus), you’d be hard-pressed to dislike the guy. He is a genuinely nice individual with an engaging personality that makes him fun to be around.
If that isn’t enough, the guy endured a worthy amount of abuse on the road throughout his tenure as a Husky. A white guy with frosted tips and a ridiculously goofy (code: awesome) shot fake? That’ll attract some attention.
The Washington State fans know what I’m talking about. They spent four years chanting “Beers on Jensen” at their home arena, a reference to an illegal, ill-advised beer run made by Jensen and some high school teammates while at a tournament in Lynden, Wash. When you’re young, you make mistakes. It happens.
I guess what I’m getting at is that it’s time to forgive and forget. There are too many Husky fans out there who, four years later, still blame Jensen for the team’s past misfortunes, and it’s simply not right.
It’s time to move on, folks. The man has paid his dues.
A positive contributor throughout a memorable era in Washington basketball history, Mike Jensen deserves to be remembered for all the good he did on some great Husky teams.
And in closing with a super corny, all-encompassing, worldly statement about the man, let this Scooter ride free once again.