Brandon Jennings’ NBA Journey

Here’s an inside look at the Bucks’ rookie, with a focus on his 55-point game against the Golden State Warriors.

While the last few years haven’t been very kind, Milwaukee is a proud franchise with a long tradition of winning. Led by Lew Alcindor, they won a championship in 1971, and in the ’80s, the team advanced at least as far as the Conference Semifinals in nine of 10 seasons. The team has a nice 1-2 punch now with Jennings and Andrew Bogut, and if Michael Redd can get healthy, this team is a good bet to make the playoffs in the East.

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Brandon Jennings, the wild card

Of all the top prospects in this year’s draft, perhaps the least is known about Brandon Jennings, who skipped an opportunity to play a year at Arizona to join a team in Italy. He had an up-and-down season, his minutes were inconsistent, but by most accounts he did improve. Chad Ford wrote a nice piece for ESPN Insider — it’s long, but this struck me as particularly interesting…

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Brandon Jennings says that all is not rosy in Europe

Remember Brandon Jennings? He’s the #1 basketball recruit of the class of 2008 that decided to forgo college (due to trouble with the admissions tests) to sign with a professional team in Rome.

We brought you some excerpts from his blog just after Christmas that stirred up some controversy but weren’t all that controversial. Now he’s on record (via email to the New York Times), and it seems like his frustration level is rising.

“I’ve gotten paid on time once this year,” Jennings said in an e-mail message. “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.”

“I don’t see too many kids doing it,” his e-mail message said. “It’s tough man, I’ll tell you that. It can break you.”

“My role is to play D and take open shots — that’s it,” he said. “And I’ve accepted that role.”

I can’t imagine that these quotes will endear him to the coaching staff in Rome. My guess is that he’ll be running a few extra sprints after practice. And this is one of the advantages (or disadvantages, depending on how you look at it) of the internet, blogs and email. These athletes are so accessible now, even ones that are living in Italy, that journalists can get a quote without flying around the world or having to track them down via telephone. Maybe the Times caught him at a bad time or maybe this is just how it is playing for Lottomatica Virtus Roma.

But even though his minutes are inconsistent and he’s only averaging eight points a game, it doesn’t look like Jennings’ time in Rome will hurt his draft stock, at least according to one anonymous NBA assistant coach.

An N.B.A. assistant coach who has been to Europe and has watched Jennings play said his potential draft standing had not been harmed. The coach requested anonymity because he was discussing a player currently ineligible for the draft.

“I think it is good for him,” he said. “He was getting a defensive component that he needed. If I was a scout and I needed a point guard, I would be extremely impressed with what he has done over there.”

Sonny Vaccaro, who in many ways brokered the deal for Jennings to go to Europe, also commented.

But Vaccaro said there had been a change from last summer, when he worked on the deals for Jennings. Economic conditions in Europe are just as difficult as they are in the United States, and he said he underestimated the emotional strength a player needed to compete overseas.

“A less-driven kid would have come home,” Vaccaro said. “They practice twice a day, and the Europeans play everybody. It is not like one of these silly college games where the same seven guys play every minute of every game. When it’s over, the fact he was able to handle it is going to be more landmark than him just going over there.”

What is Vaccaro smoking?

“It’s not like one of these silly college games where the same seven guys play every minute of every game.”

I’ve played and watched a lot of basketball in my life and the best teams have a regular rotation of guys. Some coaches use a six- or seven-player rotation, and some can find eight or nine guys that they trust. Rarely do teams regularly play a full 12-player roster. With that many guys going in and out of the game, it is impossible for most of the bench players to find any kind of rhythm. I’m not sure why Vaccaro felt the need to use the term “silly” as it just makes him sound foolish.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Europe will be a viable option for most high school seniors. As long as the NBA age-limit stays at 19, most players will prefer to play at the college level due to its comfort and familiarity. But for players like Jennings, who have difficulty getting into college, Europe will remain an option. It just may not be as attractive of an option as it was a year ago.

Related content: Brandon Jennings

Interview with Rich Zvosec — author, former coach, ESPN analyst

Rich Zvosec, former college basketball coach (and friend of The Scores Report), has written a book, Birds, Dogs & Kangaroos: Life on the Back Roads of College Basketball. In Zvosec’s humorous way, the book outlines what life is really like at the low Division I level.

I played ball at what would be considered the high Division III level and it sounds like we had more resources, support and continuity than a few of Zvosec’s teams. Coach Z is an engaging writer and has a plethora of funny/outrageous/touching anecdotes to relate as he goes through his entire coaching career.

The Scores Report had the opportunity to talk to Zvosec about why he wrote the book, what it’s like coaching in New York City, and the hurdles he had to overcome to develop into a successful color commentator for ESPN.

The Scores Report: Hi, this is John Paulsen from The Scores Report. How are you doing?

RZ: Hey, John. How are you doing?

TSR: Pretty good. I just finished reading your book over the weekend. I enjoyed it. It brought back some memories of when I played Division III ball – sounded like some of the same crazy stories. Can you tell me a little bit about why you decided to write the book?

RZ: When I first got the job at St. Francis in New York, some of the different things happened. My mother always told me, “You should save all these stories and write a book someday.” I guess I kind of wrote it for a number of different reasons. It’s kind of a cathartic look back at 25 years of kind of chasing a dream – college coaching. And the other part of it is, I wanted to give the reader a different perspective on college basketball. So often the media only covers the highest of levels and consequently everything is portrayed as just a business transaction, so to speak. Whether it comes to recruiting or wins and losses. I wanted people to get an inside look at what a coach actually goes through. And certainly it’s a little different at a St. Francis than it is at North Carolina or Kansas.

TSR: You said in the book that you coached at ten different schools. Could you give our readers a brief rundown of where you coached?

RZ: I spent 25 years, 16 as a head coach. I was the head coach at the University of North Florida, where I started the program. I coached at St. Francis college in New York. There was Millersville, Pennsylvania. And my last stop, as a college coach was at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, where I was at for the last seven years.

Read the rest after the jump...

Highlights from Brandon Jennings blog

As you may or may not remember, Brandon Jennings shocked the basketball world when he elected to play for a team in Rome instead of going to the University of Arizona. He had trouble getting his test scores up, but he made his final decision prior to the release of his final scores, so while eligibility may have been the driving factor it wasn’t likely the deciding factor.

Anyway, he has been writing a blog (sponsored by Under Armour) over the past couple of months. Here are a few of the highlights…

From his 11/7 entry, “O Yea!“:

I bet y’all wanna know what I’ve been up to these last 2 weeks. First things first, I’m sure you’ve been lookin at my stats and saying he’s not doin much. But you guys have to understand that it’s not about just one player, it’s about the team over here. And they’re all about winning, so if I’m putting up 30pts a night and losing, it doesn’t mean anything over here. But that’s why I’m loving it…because I’m all about winning too.

From his 11/13 entry, “The Latest“:

My coach is pretty cool, but he has a crazy side. He always stresses DEFENSE to us, so you know I’m playing a lot of defense this year. He’s real tough on me, but I don’t trip…it’s just getting me ready for the NBA next year. So I thank him for everything he puts me through.

From his 11/24 entry, “Staying Positive“:

What’s up, everybody? We just finished a long week of practice and it wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that. Monday we had a day off, which was cool. Tuesday-Friday it was straight running, we felt like we were trying out for the Olympic Cross Country Team or something. I think the coach was upset about our loss last week, because he made us run on the football field (soccer field) for a good 45mins. Then the next day we ran 80 sprints in practice for an hour and a half…which was rough. It felt like we were back in pre-season training camp. Then the next day we worked on defense the entire practice. This was all leading up to our game on Sunday…

So we had the game on Sunday against Scavolini Spar Pesaro…and we lost 106-93. It was pretty ugly. At one point I think we were down by 30pts. But my teammates never gave up. Allen Ray and Andre Hutson played really hard trying to keep us in the game. Hutson had 18pts, A Ray had 20pts. I only played 8mins in the game…5pts, 1asst. Not bad for 8mins, I guess…but I’d be lying if I said I’m not hungry for more PT.

No matter how much time I get on the floor in games, nothing is going to stop me from working hard every day, like staying after practice to shoot, getting to practice 30mins before to hit the weights, etc. I want to be the best I can be on the floor for my team, and I want to show my team I care so I will always be prepared. I’m never going to stop working, this has always been a big part of who I am. I take a lot of pride in knowing that I work as hard as I do.

From the 12/12 entry, “Barcelona, Spain Trip & Euro League Game“:

Now to what everyone wants to hear about, the game and the matchup with Ricky [Rubio]. Unfortunately Ricky only played about 8mins cause he’s still kind of hurt from a wrist injury he suffered in the Gold Medal game vs. Team USA, but in just 8mins he showed me a lot. I have a ton of respect for the dude. He’s real mature out there on the court, he has a great feel for the game. He passes the ball like crazy, reminds me of Steve Nash a little bit. Put it like this if he were in the class of 09 in high school basketball he would be the #1 player hands down. No question about it. I can only hope that when Ricky and I one day get to the NBA we can be like Chris Paul and Deron Williams, as our careers take off together like CP3 & D Will’s did. Despite what the critics say that he can’t shoot Ricky is going to be going a Great NBA player someday…he brings a complete game to the table.

From the 12/17 entry, “Blogging & Music

Wassup Everybody?!? Just wanted to write to y’all to clear up a few things. I’ve been seeing some negative talk about some of the things I’ve written on my blog. My blog is not to put anyone on blast or anything like that. The things I say are to show kids who are thinking about coming over here how real it is, and I’m just going to keep it 100% real. Because I don’t want anyone coming over here thinking it’s easy. The whole reason I’m doing the blog is because I made a decision that is basically unprecedented. I’m not trying to make myself sound better than anyone else…I’m just trying to tell people what it’s like. So that’s why I talk about the ups and the downs. It’s not a game once you become a Pro, it’s real life. To be great, you gotta put in the time and be responsible off the court.

It’s funny, because I read this last entry first, and was expecting much more controversial entries as I dug into the previous posts. What are people upset about — that he said that the gym was cold or mentioned that his GM ripped into his team? As far as I can tell, he’s handled this blog with as much maturity as anyone could expect from a teenager. As he mentions in his latest post, it’s a nice service for other players that are thinking about playing their one post-graduate year overseas instead of in college. Playing for a year in Rome may sound like a good idea in theory, but it takes maturity to handle yourself like a professional while living and working in a foreign country.

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