As much as I applauded Brandon Jennings for thinking outside the box, taking a risk and playing pro ball in Europe before coming to the NBA, the Pac-10 fan in me was kind of hating that I wouldn’t get to see “Young Money” rip it up for a year at Arizona.
The 12th-seeded ‘Zona squad that made an unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen last spring would have been a national title contender with Jennings distributing the rock to Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Nic Wise. He might have been reason enough for Lute Olson not to retire. He would’ve had explosive head-to-head matchups with UW’s Isaiah Thomas and Cal’s Jerome Randle, and with UCLA’s Darren Collison.
A year later than expected, Jennings and Collison finally met on the court in a Bucks/Hornets game that nobody would’ve guessed would be the most entertaining game of last night’s NBA schedule. The two rookies have been surprise newsmakers early in the season: Jennings (23.4 ppg, 5.8 apg) has a huge lead in the Rookie of the Year race and is even getting some MVP talk, while Collison (9.9 ppg, 3.7 apg) has recently led the Hornets to a 4-2 record as a fill-in starter for Chris Paul.
And in another surprise, Collison got the better of Jennings on Wednesday. With 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter and Milwaukee up by three, Collison (18 pts, 8 asts) scored on a layup. Jennings (14 pts, 8 asts, 4 stls) was then put on the line and made both clutch free throws. On the next possession, N.O. coach Jeff Bower ran a clear-out for Collison, who was being guarded by Luke Ridnour. Collison moved Ridnour out of his way and dropped a three to force overtime.
Tied up with under a minute to go in the extra frame, Collison picked Jennings’ pocket in the backcourt and got fouled. He hit both free throws, then Jennings responded with a driving layup. Again it came down to Collison on a clear-out, this time guarded by Jennings. Collison crossed him up and got fouled at the rim, hitting a go-ahead free throw with eight seconds left that was enough for the Hornets win.
Along the way, one of New Orleans’ announcers suggested that Collison — a four-year player at UCLA with three Final Four appearances under his belt — was tired of hearing so much hype for Jennings and wanted to make his mark as a rookie point guard to watch. That could’ve been the case. Or maybe he wanted to show Jennings what he’d been missing by avoiding the college game on his way to the pros.