AP Photo - Brandon Jennings (in green)
The story of Brandon Jennings is, by now, well-known.
The 6-1, 169-pound waterbug of a point guard came out of Oak Hill Academy a year ago. He bypassed the college game and went overseas to Italy to make some bucks while also playing a more mature brand of basketball.
He was hardly seen by NBA scouts. He didn’t exactly flourish overseas but managed to find somewhat of a role. He risked having his stock – which started as one of the top five draft prospects – lowered because of him being so far away, and struggling at first to adapt to a game that is completely different than the States’.
Needless to say, it was a gamble. But, it was one that paid off.
Jennings was eventually drafted 10th by the Milwaukee Bucks this summer. After a year in which could have been considered anything but an ideal situation, he eventually did end up in an ideal situation, as he now plays for Scott Skiles, is a lottery NBA pick and now is the starting point guard for a rising club.
Skiles is a former NBA point guard who has a reputation of being intense and demanding, particularly upon his lead guards.
And while most 20-year-olds would have likely butted heads by now with Skiles, Jennings has thrived.
In five games this season, the soft-spoken Jennings is averaging 18.4 ppg, 4.4 apg and 4.4 rpg. He’s shooting 43 percent from the field and is also averaging 1.6 steals as the unanimous early frontrunner for Rookie of the Year.
While many criticized – and heck, maybe even secretly hoped deep down inside – that his trip overseas would end up a huge failure, as to attest that it’s not wise to stray from the public basketball eye, Jennings has proved that what you learn over there isn’t just all basketball.
Living on his own has led to a more mature and professional approach to life, especially for a young man who has never stepped on a college campus.
“I think it helped me out mentally, playing with grown men every day,” Jennings told NBA.com about playing overseas. “That transition has helped me out.”
The overseas game, obviously, is anything but the NBA game. It’s physical and is predicated more upon passing, ball movement, shooting and fundamentals, traits that are severely lacking in the American game.
“We demand different things,” said Jennings’ development coach overseas, Nenad Trajkovic. “It is not enough to do something. You must do it correctly. Everyone who comes, young or old, from America, has to adjust. He was able to do it better than most I have seen. One more year in Europe, and he would be a star.”
Add that experience to a coach who actually preaches those fundamentals and beliefs in the States, and it’s looking like a win-win for Jennings, who, as further proof of maturity, is even keeping a budget in Milwaukee despite being a multi-millionaire.
“I understand my numbers weren’t as high and they were able to see a lot of the college kids,” Jennings said about the uncertainty of his status prior to this summer’s draft. “Right now, I’m in a great situation with Scott Skiles and he was a great player and he’ll only help my game. He’s a great teacher.
“It’s worked out just fine.”
Kudos, also, to Milwaukee, for, essentially, taking a gamble with its lottery pick and selecting Jennings with the hope that everything has turned out as it has – that the experience made a highly-talented, young guard more mature and open to the game and what it takes to succeed.
The Bucks deserve a lot of credit for taking that risk, because there is no doubt they’d never hear the end of it if Jennings had started slow, or had not been anything what they had anticipated.
Bucks basketball hasn’t seen the best of days in years past. However, their risk may turn out to be the franchise’s savior.
When I first heard Jennings was going overseas, I had mixed reactions.
I thought it was noble and gutsy of him to do so, because I did factor in the experience and maturity that could be had if he took advantage of the situation.
Living on your own pays dividends, especially at a young age. You find your identity quicker and become more comfortable with you are as a person and what you stand for.
It’s apparent that Jennings has done just that.
From a pure basketball standpoint, however, I thought it may not have been the best move. As has been noted, he was out of the public eye and his stock would have dropped, either significantly or not.
But what he did is redefine his game. Known mostly as an Allen Iverson clone prior to the transition, he has now been more of a team player who has embraced the fundamentals.
Thought to be just another flashy, quick, high-points, high-shot attempts guard, he’s proven to be a true playmaker and floor leader.
“Just keep working hard and don’t get caught up in what everyone is saying,” Jennings told NBA.com about how to sustain his early success. “Play my game and just be a leader on the court and stay humble.”
Sounds like someone who’s made the complete best out of a completely unpredictable situation.
Young success stories of growth and prosperity through mature risk are so few and far between in sports today. Good to see things work out right, at least so far, for Brandon and the Bucks.