Jennings started turning heads as hoops prodigy at age 5
By Truman Reed
July 10, 2009
The much-anticipated, official National Basketball Association premiere of Brandon Jennings is still over three months away.
Itsopening teaser ran July 10. Appropriately enough, it originated from Las Vegas, the showplace of shows.
Jennings, whom the Milwaukee Bucks selected with the 10th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, scored 10 points, dished out three assists and made two steals as Milwaukee's entry opened play in the 2009 EA Sports Las Vegas Summer League with a 65-59 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks.
TodescribeJennings' impending NBA debut as long-awaited may seem rather ridiculous, because he is only 19 years old.
Ridiculous, though,is just one of the many superlatives that has been thrown around for the last 14 years or so by those who have witnessed the extraordinary things Jennings can do with a basketball in his hands.
His public introduction to the game came when he wasa mere5 years old, when he joined a playground basketball league for 8-year-olds at Rowley Park in Gardena, Calif., near his hard-knockhometown of Compton.
Jennings quickly demonstrated that he could do much more than just hold his own playing against bigger, older, more experienced competition, and he has been doing it ever since.
Three years afterJennings made hisplayground league debut, his father, Bryan, committed suicide, leaving behind Brandon, his mother Alice Knox andBrandon's younger half-brother Terrence Phillips.
Now the man of the house at just 8 years old, Brandon Jennings became determined to make his way in the world, and basketball became both his sanctuary and his avenue.
"I knew that I had to get my name out there," Jennings said recently while reflecting upon his early career, "so that my family would be OK."
Hebecame a ballboyfor the powerhouse program at Compton's Dominguez High School, which has produced NBA players Dennis Johnson, Tayshaun Prince and Tyson Chandler.
As Jennings watched the Dons square off against the likes of prep school stronghold Oak Hill Academy of Mouth of Wilson, Va., Jennings dreamed of reaching such a stage one day.
Jennings was much more than a bystander and dreamer, though.
Reprenting the South Coast All-Stars duringa National AAU Tournament in Memphis, Tenn., at age 13, he connected for 30 points in the title game. Afterward, he did his first newspaper interview and signed his first autograph.
Jenningscontinued to develop hisplaying skillsas a member of the P. Miller All-Stars Amateur Athletic Unionsquad and helped lead the team to theNational AAU 14-and-under Tournament at Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Jennings'Californiaunit reached the semifinals before losing to a teamthat included fellow 2009 drafteeTyreke Evans despite a 27-point performance by Jennings before astanding-room audience.
Coming off his national "coming-out" game, Jenningsearned a starting backcourt spot in his freshman season at Dominguez.
As a Dominguez frosh, Brandon averaged 9 points, 8 assists and 2 steals per game while playing with three Division-I bound upperclassmen. The Donsfinished 26-6, reached the finals of the state tournament'sSouthern California bracket. Jennings was proclaimed the state's top freshman.
Amir Johnson,acquired by the Bucks in a trade earlier this summer from the Detroit Pistons, looks forward to playing with Jennings after contending against him in high school.
Johnson, who attended L.A.'s Westchester High School, was named California's Mr. Basketball, Los Angeles Player of theYearand a McDonald's All-American in 2005 after leading his team toa state championship and a top-five national ranking.
"Brandon's an L.A. guy like me, so I already know his game," Johnson said. "I know what he can do. We played up and down California.
"We actually played against each other in high school, in my senior year when he was a freshman. So I know what he can do. He reminded me a little bit of 'A.I.'"
As the ensuing spring and summer unfolded, Jennings continued to accomplish his objective of getting his name"out there" as he played against better and better competition.
"I would say it was that ninth-grade year, when I played against O.J. Mayo for the first time," Jennings said. "I grew up playing against that guy, the Derrick Roses, the Greg Odens, the Mike Conleys ... I could go on down the line.
"My whole life, I've played against older competition. That makes it easier for me to just go out there and play now, because I've always played against older guys."
Jennings had a 24-point, 10-assist game in his first head-to-head confrontation with Mayo, who would become a member of the Memphis Grizzlies andthe NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2008-09.
Jennings made substantial strides as a sophomore, averaging19 points per game as Dominguez went 25-6 and reached the semifinals of the CIF Southern Section Division IIAA Tournament.
By the following summer, Jennings had become aluminary figure on the national prep hoops scope.
Hetraveled eastward and excelled on one of the game's grandest stages, New York City's famed Rucker Park. Playing in The Boost Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic, he collected 12 points, 15 assists, was named co-MVP and, like many who have impressed the tough Rucker crowd, earneda new nickname, "Doobie Doo."
Jennings made strong impressions during stints at the NBA Players Association Camp and at the Reebok ABCD Camp and with theSouthern California All-Stars AAU contingent.
The So Cal All-Stars' coaching staff included Kelly Williams, whose son Marcus Williams had starred at Los Angeles' Crenshaw High School before transferring to Oak Hill Academy, becoming a standout at the University of Connecticut and entering the NBA with the New Jersey Nets.
Marcus Williams, also a point guard,became a mentor to Jennings, at one point giving his protege his Oak Hill warm-ups as a source of motivation and a nudge in the direction of the Virginia Appalachians.
Jennings, despite some early reservations over the school's location and strict regimen -- stationed in mountain country, he would be required to complete all homework,go toclasses six days per week, attend church and do his own laundry -- enrolled at Oak Hill for his junior year of high school.
And his stock soared.
Playing alongside prep All-Americans Nolan Smith and Alex Legion, Jennings became veteran coach Steve Smith's distributor. He averaged over 15 points and 12 assists as Oak Hill went 40-1 and won its seventh national championship.
Jennings adeptly changed roles in his senior year at Oak Hill, still running the point and also becoming the Warriors' first scoring option.
His physical skills and vocal leadership prompted longtime prep basketball gurus to compare him to Allen Iverson and also his boyhood idol, Kenny Anderson.
On Feb. 21 of 2008, Jennings dropped 63 points -- including 13 treys -- in a 123-58 rout of Bonner Academy of Raleigh, N.C. to set an Oak Hill single-game scoring record.
He went on to average35.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4 rebounds and 3.3 steals in his senior campaign and score 1,312 career points, shattering another school record of 980 previously held by Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks.
Jennings carried Oak Hill to a 34-4 record in 2007-08, bringing his four-yearledger as a high-school player to 125-17.
He earned even more raves for his play on the spring and summer circuit. His 2006 So Cal All-Stars contingent, which also included Kevin Love (now of the Minnesota Timberwolves), future Southern California stars Davon Jefferson andDaniel Hackett, fellow McDonald's All-Americans Taylor King (then a Duke recruit) and Renardo Sidney (a 2009 Mississippi State signee)and Indiana signee Malik Story, won two consecutive national AAU championships.
In 2006, they went 45-2, losing only two games in which Love was unavailable, and won five major tournaments.
The So Cal All-Starsenjoyed an average victory margin of nearly 30 points in their second national tournament title conquest. The championship game against the Playaz Basketball Club of New Jersey was stopped in accordance with a mercy rule.
One ofthe team'sfinest hours came in the same city where Jennings played his first game as a Milwaukee Buck: Las Vegas. The So Cal All-Stars won the Reebok Big Time Tournamentwith a 69-63 triumph over a Mean Streets Express teamfeaturing Derrick Rose and future Los Angeles Clipper Eric Gordon.
"In high school, I played on one of the best AAU teams ever, with Kevin Love," Jennings said. "All I did was run the show, run the team, get guys involved.
"That team was unbelievable. In me and Kevin Love, we've had two lottery picks so far on that team. We had Renardo Sidney, who's the next big one and will probably be a lottery pick, too.
"We wentundefeated against guys like Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo. We just ran through everybody."
Jennings was a two-time co-MVP of the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Classic Rucker Park, sharing the award in the repeat conquest with Tyreke Evans. Jennings scored 19 points and set a game record with 23 assists in leading his team to a 169-164 win at Rucker Park.
Jennings alsoplayed in the prestigious McDonald's All-American Gameat the Bradley Center in Milwaukee in the spring of 2008 and set another record with 14 assists in the Jordan Brand All-Star Gameat New York City' Madison Square Garden.
His honor roll as a prep and AAU traveler readas follows:
- 2005 Press Telegram Freshman Player of the Year
-Most Valuable Player of 2006 Les Schwab Invitational Tournament
- Co-MVP of 2006 Mobile Elite 24 Hoops Classic
- Co-MVP of 2007 Elite 24 Hoops Classic (with Tyreke Evans)
- 2007 Las Vegas Easter Classic Most Valuable Player
- 2007 NBAPS Top 100 High School Camp Best Playmaker
- 2007 The Goazcats.com Showdown Most Valuable Player
- 2008 Naismith Male Player of the year
- 2007-08 Gatorade Player of the year Virginia
- 2008 Parade Magazine Player of the Year
- 2008 EA SPORTS National Player of the Year
- 2007-08 MaxPreps National Player of the Year
- 2008 Jordan Brand Classic Most Valuable Player for East
- No. 1 rated senior by ESPN (2008)
- No. 1 rated senior by Van Coleman Hoopmaster (2008)
- No. 1 rated senior by Clark Franics Hoop Scoop (2007 and 2008)
- No. 1 rated senior by Dave Telep Scout.com 2008
These lofty accolades may be just the beginning for Jennings. Visit bucks.com again soon for Part II of this series.