Editor’s Note: “A Decade Back” means just that. We’re looking ten years into the past at major events in the basketball landscape to relive the history. We should learn from the course of time and not soon forget the moments that brought us here.
When the NBA instituted the “one-and-done” rule, it sent players who would have started their professional careers at 18 to college for an amateur season before getting paid.
In 2008, Brandon Jennings tried something new: go pro in something other than the NBA.
Jennings was one of the top prospects of the Class of 2008. The guard from Compton, California, set a single-season scoring record at Oak Hill Academy in his senior season with 1,312 points, averaging 35.5 points per game, another school record.
He originally committed to USC in 2006, but in April 2007, he backed off and flipped to Arizona. Quotes from some people close to him at the time attributes the switch to his understanding it would be best for him to not be in Los Angeles.
“He’s matured over the course of last year both as a player and as a young man,” Steve Smith, Jennings’s head coach at Oak Hill, told the Arizona Daily Star in May 2007. “He’s really taken care of business and done what he’s supposed to do. He knew he left Compton for all the right reasons. He wanted to focus and get away from it.”
A year later, it was reported that Jennings was considering to move further from LA than Arizona. He was contemplating to forgo his amateur status and playing overseas for one season until he was eligible for the 2009 NBA Draft at age 19.
Before making the decision, Jennings and his family wanted to be sure he could still be drafted if he crossed the Atlantic and hired an attorney to be certain, Andy Katz reported for ESPN, an illustration of how bizarre the scenario was at the time.
“It’s something I’m considering now,” Jennings told Katz. “I still want to go to Arizona but if things don’t go right, I’m considering going overseas.”
Some issues arose after his standardized test scores jumped from his first to second tries, forcing him to give it a third go. Jennings told Katz he didn’t try the first time around but did the second, explaining the difference in results.
“He’s creating an option if things fall apart,” Arizona assistant coach Mike Dunlap told Katz. “I get that.”
His mother, Alice Knox, said all of her son’s decisions were with his professional success in mind.
“Brandon mentioned players like Tony Parker and Jose Calderon, point guards he admires who developed their game overseas and had no college,” she said to Katz. “Brandon’s main goal is that he wanted to play professional basketball to take care of his family.”
In July, he made up his mind: Jennings would become the first major American player to go pro before entering the NBA Draft.
He signed with Pallacanestro Virtus Roma in Rome to a three-year, $1.65 million deal, per ESPN’s Chris Broussard. The contract included buyout options so Jennings could depart for the NBA the following season, Lance Pugmire of the LA Times reported.
“(Virtus Roma GM Dejan Bodiroga) had a comprehensive plan for Brandon that included specific training and education, tutoring programs … as well as media training,” Jeffrey Valle, one of the player’s attorneys, said in a statement.
It was also reported that Jennings’s 13-year-old brother, Terrence, would join a junior club team in Rome and attend an English-speaking school in the area, as arranged by Bodiroga.
Jennings’s advisor, Sonny Vaccaro, said in a press release this would help Jennings moving forward.
“This opportunity will enable Brandon to compete at a very high level in Europe and is also an environment that he and his family will find comfortable,” Vaccaro said.
In the 2008-09 season, Jennings appeared in 43 games to Virtus Roma and averaged 6.3 points and 1.8 steals per game as a role player.
Jennings entered the 2009 NBA Draft, and the Milwaukee Bucks selected him 10th overall. But he wasn’t in the building when he was picked. Four picks later, David Stern stopped the selections and announced Milwaukee’s newest addition had arrived. Jennings simultaneously came from behind the curtain and waltzed onto the stage, one of the more unique starts to an NBA career.
The reviews were mixed. Some argued Jennings hadn’t produced enough in his season in Italy to warrant a top-10 selection, while others loved his potential and said spurning college is what dropped his stock some from a year before.
“Jennings is a terrific athlete, is super quick and can score like crazy. He needs to get stronger, work on his jump shot and settle down a bit, but he has the tools to be great if he wants to be …
The Bucks’ future now rests with young players like Andrew Bogut, Joe Alexander and Jennings. It might take Jennings a little longer to realize his potential, but if he does, the Bucks hit a home run.” – Chad Ford, ESPN
“Jennings was a great value pick at 10th. He’s got the potential to develop into one of the best point guards in the league, and his stock was hurt by his decision to eschew college in favor of Europe.” – Adi Joseph, NBADraft.net
“For the 10th and 41st picks? Huge potential.” – Kelly Dwyer, Yahoo! Sports
“Why not swing for the fences with a player who could be really special?” – Chad Ford, ESPN
“Even Brandon Jennings didn’t know he would go so high, as he turned down the invite to the green room. Again, another team swung for the fences. However, Jennings did next to nothing in Italy.
This was a riskier pick than (DeMar) DeRozan, who actually played decent at USC. Nonetheless, Jennings is a physical freak and is being taken based on that alone.” – Steve Xiong, Bleacher Report
“Is this team about to fold? They traded Richard Jefferson for absolutely nothing and then drafted a guy that was mediocre in an Italian pro league. Seriously, no idea what this team is doing and I don’t think that they have a clue either.” – Robert Ferringo, Doc Sports
“Jennings seems like a bad fit for Milwaukee, while at the same time I don’t see a better Scott Skiles fit at point guard than Jrue Holiday.” – Christopher Reina, RealGM
“Collegiate objector joins team that’s already raised white flag on 2009-10 season?” – Dave Del Grande, CBS Sports