Jennings’ story good for the game

Michael Moses

“Gone is the brash, arrogant teenager. In his place is a much more mature, respectful young man, always cheering on his teammates, showing great body language and painstakingly trying to do what his coaches ask of him, almost to a fault at times.”, on Brandon Jennings prior to ’09 NBA Draft

Brandon Jennings, Milwaukee Bucks’ rookie point guard, scored 55 points in a 129-125 win against Golden State last Saturday night. It was just his seventh NBA game. He set the record for fewest games into an NBA career with a 50-point game. The previous record holder? A guy by the name of Wilt Chamberlain. (Chamberlain scored 55 points on Nov. 12, 1959, in the eighth game of his NBA career).

Many people criticized Jennings’ decision to skip college and play professionally overseas after his high school graduation. His story was the talk of the sports world for weeks. Jennings’ was widely considered the No. 1 point guard in the nation, and was set to play at Arizona. Slowly, though, speculations about Brandon’s grades raised some eyebrows around the NCAA. Was this the reason he bounced for Rome? We’ll never know. But guess what? He’s now in the NBA, and not going anywhere for a while.

Jennings, as of Thursday, was averaging a rookie-best 24.8 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He’s been leading his team, keeping his mouth shut and being a basketball player. All the critics that blamed him for his decision now look as smart as Allen Iverson.

Last year, Jennings played for Lottomatica Virtus Roma, an Italian team. He didn’t have to worry about going to class, studying for midterms or hell, even skipping class (we all know college athletes are pampered, don’t act like you’ve never heard of that). While his fellow class of 2008 stars were here in the U.S. living their lives as student-athletes, he was in Rome, living the life of a professional athlete. Basketball, 24/7.

When you think about it, how wouldn’t Jennings skyrocket on NBA teams’ draft boards? He was working on his game every single day. He was playing with professionals, not college athletes. Grown men, tossing his 169-pound self around like a beanie baby. He was a prized recruit, he wasn’t being pampered and given the starting job.

While someone like Tyreke Evans, a fellow lottery pick out of Memphis drafted by the Sacramento Kings, was probably wondering what frat party to go to, Jennings was wondering how to do laundry. “We didn’t have any dryers so we had to hang dry our clothes for two days,” he explained during media day at the NBA draft. “The food was different, some people spoke English but a lot didn’t. On the court the style is different; it’s not a very open court game involving a lot of isolation, it’s strictly team basketball.” Living on your own at college is one thing, but when in Rome, you do as the Romans do.

What’s most impressive, in my opinion, is Jennings’ maturity. He’s my age. Hell, I’m a month older than him. A twenty-year-old leading an NBA team by not just scoring. At Denver on November 11th, Jennings played 38 minutes, had nine assists and 38 points on 11-of-19 shooting. That’s shooting 58 percent from the floor and at the same time, getting your teammates involved. His 5.8 assists per game ranks 14th in the league make him the highest ranked rookie by about 10 spots.

With Jennings immediate success in the NBA, you have to wonder if this will become a trend with top prospects for years to come. Honestly, I hope it does. I hope NBA commissioner David Stern doesn’t step in and create a rule to ban this, as he did with the age limit in 2006. What it comes down to is that college is always going to be there for these individuals. Some people don’t even go to college and end up doing great for themselves in their selected professions. They take a different route, and it pays off. Brandon Jennings took a different route and look how it worked out for him.

The college basketball game will not die without these players. If anything, basketball will become more globalized. The Brandon Jennings’ of the world will spark interest in kids in Europe. They’ll pick up a ball at home, and who knows, maybe they’ll say, “I want to play college basketball in America”? If one American goes over, maybe three Europeans will come over? Either way, basketball grows.

“When you go to other places and see how they live, you sit back and you realize that you’re blessed to be an American and live in the States,” Jennings said. “We don’t know how good we have it until you get out of your comfort zone.”

I’d say it’s safe to say that Brandon Jennings is back in his comfort zone.

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