1. BRANDON JENNINGS (Milwaukee Bucks, Point Guard, Third-Year Pro)
“Bigger fish to fry so I’m goin’ probably need a bigger pan.
Saw the bigger picture, Brandon Jennings money, switching hands.”
These Sir Michael Rocks’ lines from “Banco Populair” personify Brandon Jennings’ foresight in his young career. He’s always longed for bigger and better things. Every major decision he’s made in his life has been done with an eye towards the future, making the most of his present, and relishing the opportunity of what’s next. While his choices have been questioned, Jennings proven to be on-point and has blazed an unparalleled trail. His individuality and determined mindset are what separates him from the stacked PG class of 2009. At present, Jennings is at another tipping point to define his legacy.
Jennings dipped So Cal’s local powerhouse of Dominguez High after two years to transfer to the East Coast juggernaut, Oak Hill Academy. Every L.A. hooper was like, “Why the f^$% would you leave the sunshine and ladies to ball out there?”
“It’s a school that plays on the national level. You play against the best competition every year,” said Jennings at the time. What did he do once at Oak Hill? Eclipse long-standing records for most points in a season (1,312), most points scored in a game (63), highest single-season scoring average (35.5), all while winning the Naismith Prep Player of the Year Award.
With those accomplishments, there’s no reason why he doesn’t believe he’s not the best Oak Hill player ever. “Of course, I think I am. It’s all on paper. And the numbers don’t lie,” said Jennings of his time there.
As the No. 1 ranked player in the country, Jennings verbally committed to the Arizona Wildcats. But with Lute Olson’s pending departure and shaky SAT scores that keeping Jennings ineligible to attend college, he took his talents across the pond to Italy’s Lottomatica Virtus Roma. He pocketed himself a three-year, $1.65 million deal, showing cats back in the States that he’s living proof of Kanye’s “Flashing Lights” joint: “you know you can’t Rome without Caesar.”
Hell, even UConn’s Jim Calhoun was amazed by his decision: “I guess I’m not creative enough to have even thought of a kid doing that.” His stats during his lone season weren’t impressive (5.5 points, 2.2 dimes in 17 minutes per game). Nothing to brag about, but his Under Armour endorsement contract isn’t that bad either.
According to Larry Brown Sports’ Shane Baker, Jennings’ initial shoe deal was for two-years, $2 million, while Earthquake Blake’s Nike deal is only $400,000 per year. Money aside, he elected to go with a football established brand over a traditional basketball one. How many cats would’ve dissed Nike or adidas for a brand that appeared on Any Given Sunday, had a slogan that was “protect this house,” and no basketball history? Jennings didn’t follow the ordinary hooper model of signing with the kicks company you’ve known your whole life. If you haven’t been watching the “Under the Armour” series, you’re missing out. He started Under Armour’s basketball division, and they now have a starting five. The marketing involved with this brand is fresh and organic. Any kid can relate to their “Are You From Here?” campaign. Jennings’ vision as a pioneer is at the forefront of big changes to come.
As a Milwaukee Buck, he’s lived to play on the biggest stages and brightest limelight. In his rookie year, he dropped a career-high double-nickel on the Warriors – after being scoreless in the first quarter – which broke the team’s record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and was four points shy from breaking the all-time rookie mark owned by Wilt the Stilt. He took his Andrew Bogut-less squad to a seven-game playoff series versus the Atlanta Hawks; he averaged 18.7 points on 41 percent shooting and 2.6 dimes. Fast-forward to this season, Jennings has lit up the marquee teams. He scorched the Heatles twice, once in South Beach (23 points, six dimes and six boards) and at home (31 points, eight dimes, four boards and four cookies). And he brought down The Garden with a season-high 36 points, five dimes and six treys. When the big boys are on deck, he knocks them out.
Unless you’re Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, Jennings won’t ever get the pub he deserves in Wisconsin. On any “top 10 point guard list,” he never makes the cut. His 5.5 dime clip doesn’t seem like much, but that’s right there with Russell Westbrook (5.6) and Tyreke Evans (5.0). And Jennings doesn’t have a Durantula or even a DeMarcus Cousins to pass to. Scott Skiles is a defensive-minded coach and when Bogut is hurt, who does he run with? Ersan Ilyasova? Drew Gooden? Please. If the Knicks didn’t sleep on him a draft night, Linsanity would’ve been in Harvard graduate school rather than in the league. Jennings would’ve thrived under Mike D’Antoni’s system. He would’ve pose as a real threat flanked with ’Melo and STAT. Nevertheless, he still keeps hooping.
Sole Collector’s Zac Dubasik interviewed Jennings shortly after his All-Star snub. When asked about what kept him out of playing in that game, Jennings said, “I really don’t know. I still think I need to be working harder if I want to get there. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the main thing is the fact that I’m in the conversation.”
However, being in the conversation and selected by the coaches to be an All-Star is still a significant gap. The reserve selection process is too subjective. Coaches have their personal biases. Their choices can easily be based on what they perceive a player’s reputation, on what team they’re on, and how consistent their play is. The last thing Jennings wants is to be stuck in the Bermuda Triangle-line of cats like Monta Ellis, Al Jefferson and now Josh Smith every year. He can easily alter the course of his career by finding a new home.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard recently reported that Jennings is already plotting his next move.
“I am going to keep my options, knowing that time is coming up. I’m doing my homework on big-market teams. I’m going to keep playing hard every for the Bucks as long as I’m there. I’m not promising that’s where my future will be,” said Jennings in the e-mail interview.
Some may say it’s a little too early for him to decide to leave Milwaukee. Some didn’t think his jump to Europe would translate to immediate success in the NBA. Some wondered why a cat would rock Under Armour. Some don’t believe he’s a top 10-level point guard.
All Jennings has done is work hard and calculated every move accordingly. The naysayers’ talk is a moot point. Like Drake joining that top label, Jennings is out to prove why he is among the game’s elite as his Young Money nickname suggests. You can’t expect anything less.
Which players desperately need a change in scenery?
Follow Freddy on Twitter at @RealFreddyMack.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.