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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Jennings' stint in Europe shaping his hot start in the NBA

His quotes coming out of Rome last year were pretty startling.

""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,"" Brandon Jennings told The New York Times during his year playing European basketball. ""It's tough, man, I'll tell you that. It can break you.""

Now fast forward through the pre-draft questions about his maturity, through getting picked 10th by the Bucks all the way to this weekend when he dropped 55 points on the Golden State Warriors, two short of the team's all-time record.

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So what happened? How is a guy who seemed so immature and in over his head overseas ready to take the top role on an NBA team?

Well maybe, just maybe, it's because he struggled so mightily last year.

Had Jennings gone to an American university, he would have been protected by the warm and cozy bubble of college athletics.

A one-and-done player only needs to take 12 credits his first semester and can then slack off after winter break (they leave after the team's season ends for draft prep anyway). They get to enjoy life as the big man on campus, being let into campus bars because of their fame and having coeds feign tripping just to bump into them and ask while giggling, ""Wait, are you Brandon Jennings?""

No, instead Jennings had adult teammates who treated him as a kid, because to them, he was. He had to do the things he didn't do well (play defense, be patient) and limited him from the role that made him so sought after (playing with the ball in his hands, freelancing, shooting... a lot).

He wasn't coddled and pampered like most rising young hoops stars in the states. The numbers speak for themselves (27-percent 3-point shooting and 38 percent overall his only season in Europe).

His team very rarely even paid him on time (many European teams don't).

But more importantly, he had to grow up.

Few people would react well to moving across the Atlantic and working in an adult world thousands of miles from the life they knew. He had a tough time with it, but perhaps it was important he was challenged and shaken from his high perch as a hyped prep baller.

Entering the draft, critics lambasted and questioned him, saying scouts couldn't judge his body of work from 17 minutes per game in a structured offense. He became a prospect whose ""question marks"" were fretted over, dissected and ultimately overblown.

As a Buck, he seems to have a good understanding of the game and is willing to play within the flow of an offense.

Coming out of high school he was compared to Allen Iverson as a high-volume, low-percentage scorer. In his first eight games, Jennings is scoring over 25 points per game, but doing it at an efficient clip. He's hit over half of his 39 3s and is shooting nearly 48 percent, an impressive feat for any guard, let alone one who is just 6'1"" and 169 pounds.

To put it in perspective, both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, much larger players, connected on around 42 percent of their shots as rookies.

The strong start to Jennings' NBA career comes at the perfect time, as recent reports painted Jeremy Tyler, who left high school after his junior year to play in Israel, as an immature player. They say he deflects blame on others, makes excuses.

The New York Times unapologetically lambasted him: ""Tyler still talks openly about retiring with $200 million in the bank after a 15-year N.B.A. career. He also talks about modeling, the documentary being made about him, and how he and his girlfriend, Erin Wright, the daughter of the rapper Eazy-E, will grow up to be an American power couple.""

Yes, he sounds like a punk. Yes, he seems like an immature kid in way over his head. But by facing those challenges now, he will almost assuredly grow and learn from them.

Look at Jennings. A year ago, no one treated him like a man. Now, with Michael Redd's injury, he's the man on a (currently) winning NBA team.

And his European struggles are, literally and figuratively, thousands of miles away.

Think the sky's the limit for Jennings? Tell Ben just how good (or bad) he can be at


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