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News » Bucks' Jennings takes a different path to NBA

Bucks' Jennings takes a different path to NBA

Bucks' Jennings takes a different path to NBA The skinny kid with the funky hair and freakish handle was known as trouble a year ago, an immature teenager outcast by the American college Basketball system because he couldn't cut it academically.

Now, Brandon Jennings is looking like a trendsetter - and the next NBA Rookie of the Year.

Jennings, Milwaukee's wiry, 6-foot-1 point guard, has ripened into the talk of the league throughout this season's first month. He enters tonight's game against the Thunder ranked 10th in scoring at 23.4 points per game, dropping 55 points on Golden State seven games ago to break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Bucks record for most points in a game by a rookie. Though both the Bucks and the Thunder are off to surprisingly hot starts, it's Jennings' play that prompted ESPN to pick up tonight's telecast.

But it's Jennings' pioneering path to the NBA that has been the biggest shock regarding his success. Last year, Jennings became the first player to bypass college and play professional overseas as a result of the NBA's age limit, which took effect in 2006 and shut off high school players from jumping directly to the NBA .

Jennings' early achievements have raised the question of whether future high school players will take their talents abroad rather than sacrifice lucrative contracts and endorsements for a one-and-done college career.

A second prep phenom, Jeremy Tyler, already has followed in Jennings' footsteps. Tyler, a San Diego native, skipped his senior season altogether and jetted overseas to play professionally in Israel.

"I don't think they'll be the last ones," said Oklahoma State men's Basketball coach Travis Ford. "But I don't see a mass exodus with everybody headed over there. There's too many good options. And I think most kids want to go to college, at least for a year."

Jennings was a highly rated recruit who had committed to play at Arizona. As a senior at prep power Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, the Los Angeles native averaged 32.7 points, 7.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds en route to the 2008 Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award. But after failing to pass college entrance exams, Jennings signed with the professional Italian team Lottomatica Virtus Roma in the summer of 2008.

Still a month shy of his 19th birthday, Jennings earned a contract worth more than $1.5 million and an endorsement deal with the sports apparel company Under Armour for reportedly $2 million. But he faced hardships on the hardwood. Jennings fell prey to the European way, which puts experienced players ahead of young newcomers in the rotation, no matter the pups' talent levels.

Considering Jennings fell to the 10th pick in the draft, it's debatable whether the European route helped his cause. College players with more hype like Hasheem Thabeet and Jordan Hill, and one highly touted international prospect, Ricky Rubio, were taken ahead of Jennings. But that trio has combined to play only 151 NBA minutes.

Some NBA executives think Jennings' banishment to the bench in Europe might have hurt his draft stock. Jennings averaged just 6.3 points, 2.0 assists and 1.6 rebounds in less than 18 minutes per game, a shortage that prevented scouts and general managers from adequately evaluating Jennings' abilities. Jennings also was labeled a problem child after being kicked out of practice and making headlines for being a spoiled, unprofessional player.

To some, the reports matched up to what Jennings presented while still stateside, bringing attention to himself in the 2008 McDonald's All-American Game by sporting a retro high-top fade hairdo and admittedly playing for the sole purpose of notching the game's assists record.

But unlike Tyler, who is reportedly already struggling in Israel, Jennings survived because of a strong support system and an unwavering commitment to his NBA dream. Jennings lived with his mother, Alice Knox, and brother, Terrance Philips, in a three-bedroom apartment in Italy. They helped the young star keep a level head while adjusting to a reduced role.

"It's not for everybody," Jennings told USA Today. "A lot of kids should still go to college. If you're mentally strong and you can handle being away from home, then go ahead and do it."

Former OU men's Basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, now an assistant with the Bucks, said Jennings possesses that determined mentality. Sampson has been instrumental in developing Jennings' skills, often meeting him four hours before games to drill on his perimeter shooting.

"I've talked to Brandon about (his decision) on different occasions," Sampson said. "When he was presented this opportunity he said, 'Why not?' That's kind of his attitude. He's a risk-taker. He doesn't mind going against the grain."

Thunder guard Shaun Livingston, who sidestepped college for NBA riches in 2004, said he only jumped to the professional ranks because he was the fourth overall pick. Had he not been a top five pick, Livingston said he would have honored his commitment to Duke. But he didn't feel college could possibly improve his draft stock any more.

"I would advise going the conventional route, because it's still so many more pros than cons," Livingston said. "But it depends on the individual. Right now it's working out for (Jennings). Who's to say it's going to work for anybody else that tries it?"

Mike Baldwin and John Helsley contributed to this report

Bucks at Thunder

→When: 8:30 p.m. tonight

→Where: Ford Center

→TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722), ESPN (Cox 29)

→Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM

→Live chat:

Three things to know

→Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings leads all rookies in scoring and ranks 10th in the NBA in points per game.

→The Thunder has waived forward Ryan Bowen and signed point guard Mike Wilks. Thunder forward Nick Collison and guards Kevin Ollie, Kyle Weaver and Shaun Livingston are all out with injuries.

→Milwaukee won last year's two-game series, 2-0.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: November 30, 2009


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