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Brandon Jennings in Today’s NY Times

January 24, 2009

As you might know, top guard prospect Brandon Jennings decided to make the bold move, skipping college and going to play a year in Europe. For those interested in the works of college basketball recruiting, and for those concerned about the restricted options for those boys who want to play basketball professionally straight out of high school, this is a landmark case.

The Brown vs. Board of Ed of recruiting? If the trip is successful, that bit hyperbole may not be so outlandish.

The New York Times has been keeping close tabs on Brandon Jennings. Some excerpts from today’s article:

“I’ve gotten paid on time once this year,” Jennings said in an e-mail message. “They treat me like I’m a little kid. They don’t see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you might not play a lot. Some nights you’ll play a lot; some nights you won’t play at all. That’s just how it is.”

“I don’t see too many kids doing it,” his e-mail message said. “It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.”…

Jennings does not resemble the pioneer some envisioned when he left for Europe as a dynamic player who could create his own shots and score 20 points or more a game. In Italy, he said, he has been stifled offensively. He is averaging 8 points a game.

“My role is to play D and take open shots — that’s it,” he said. “And I’ve accepted that role.”

He acknowledged that the journey had helped him mature, and he said the rigors of playing in Europe may benefit others.

An N.B.A. assistant coach who has been to Europe and has watched Jennings play said his potential draft standing had not been harmed. The coach requested anonymity because he was discussing a player currently ineligible for the draft.

“I think it is good for him,” he said. “He was getting a defensive component that he needed. If I was a scout and I needed a point guard, I would be extremely impressed with what he has done over there.”

I comment on this because I saw the first quotes from Jennings – about not being paid on time and about him being treated like a kid – on ESPN’s bottom line during the Wisconsin Illinois game I’m watching. And those are portrayed as the terrible things. Certainly, it is nice to be paid on time, but it’s a well-known issue that European teams are scattered with the timely payroll.

Jennings is, essentially, a little kid! He is not the man, and perhaps more players need to fit the team concept and realize how very much they have to learn. Jennings admits that the journey has helped him mature. And for a fanbase that chides NBA players for being immature, for coaches who often have a hard time handling the immaturity of NBA players, this could be a fantastic, though unintended, outcome for Brandon.

Playing defense – especially if he has improved with his existing athleticism – is a great, underrated skill. Rajon Rondo and his unoffensive game has really made a name for himself simply with good defense.

It may not be what Brandon Jennings envisioned. But he’s making money and hasn’t hurt his draft stock. Perhaps more players should consider going to Europe and getting schooled a little, building some mental toughness, and gaining experience and worldliness.

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