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Bucks’ Brandon Jennings takes a different path to NBA

By Darnell Mayberry Published: November 27, 2009
/articleid/3420644/1/pictures/773766">Photo - Bucks guard Brandon Jennings went from high school to Italy to the NBA.  AP photo
Bucks guard Brandon Jennings went from high school to Italy to the NBA. AP photo
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

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