Nobody expects rookie Brandon Jennings to maintain the pace he’s been keeping up so far, but his Milwaukee Bucks are in first place in their division and last night Jennings continued his stunning early season run with 32 points — 14 in the fourth quarter — and nine assists for the Bucks.
Jennings may someday stand as a pioneer, a trailblazer, if you will. Instead of heading to the University of Arizona — where he was expected to go for his college basketball career after a spectacular prep career first in California and then at Oak Hill Academy, Jennings instead signed a contract with Lottomatica Roma in Italy. He became the first American to spurn college for a European contract.
The NBA no longer allows players to enter the league immediately after high school. But instead of a scholarship to Arizona — where he failed to pass an entrance exam on several occasions — Jennings signed a $1.65 million one-year guaranteed deal with Lottomatica. He also had a $2 million endorsement deal while playing there.
He played in 27 games and didn’t do particularly well. He averaged just 5.5 points per game and shot about 35 percent from the floor. But he got a lot more experience over there — European coaches are unfettered by NCAA regulations on practice time and Jennings played with and against better and more polished players over there than he would have in the NCAA.
And instead of a one-and-done year on campus, he had an enriching European experience, did his maturing and growing up while learning to function in his chosen career — and made a lot of money doing it. No offense intended to anyone at Arizona or any other college, but I believe Jennings made a very intelligent decision.
And his play in the NBA is reflecting that. If you go to Europe, pay attention, work hard and listen to the very talented and experienced players over there, you’re going to learn A LOT.
Is there any doubt this could lead to more players following his lead? The only stumbling block after Jennings’ uneven performance over there, is that some European teams now may be reluctant to take on high school players, fearing they won’t be good enough to contribute to their teams. But some will compete at a passable level and there will be enough of them to entice teams into taking a chance on others.
And over here, it will only take a few going over — the marquee players a lot of college programs rely on to sell tickets and raise TV ratings — before it will look as if the NBA rule prohibiting the drafting of high school players will be rendered fairly useless as far as the colleges are concerned.
And someday Jennings may be appropriately hailed as the one who started it all.