Jennings in reverse, fast forward – Part I
Point guard looks back on whirlwind NBA rookie season
By Truman Reed
"I think just proving everybody wrong and going to the playoffs," Jennings said when asked what he would remember most about his NBA rookie tour.
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
During the first few weeks of his rookie season in the National Basketball Association, Brandon Jennings said he felt like, in some ways, he was back at Oak Hill Academy.
This was understandable, considering that Jennings had spent the year in-between in Europe, learning a different culture, trying to make a difficult adjustment to European basketball and getting only limited playing time for the first time in his life.
And Jennings was certainly taking the NBA by storm, much like he did the national prep ranks during his senior season at Oak Hill, when he averaged 35.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game and earned the majority of the national player of the year awards.
Similarly, Jennings burst onto the NBA scene, embarrassing those who openly expressed the opinion that he had been drafted far too high (10th overall).
He became the first rookie in 35 years to lead his team in points, rebounds and assists (17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists) in his first NBA game (Oct. 30 vs. Philadelphia).
He scored a Bucks rookie record of 55 points in just his seventh NBA outing, drilling 21 of 34 field-goal attempts - and seven of eight thee-point goals - against the Golden State Warriors on November 14.
With his "double-nickel" performance, Jennings scored the most points by an NBA rookie since Earl "The Pearl" Monroe dropped 56 in 1968. He also became the fastest and youngest rookie ever to clear the 50-point plateau.
Jennings went on to average 22.1 points in November and won the NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Award for October/November, December, January and March.
He was one of only two Bucks to play all 82 of the team's regular-season games, averaged 15.5 points, 5.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds and helped the team earn a 46-36 record and its first playoff trip since 2006.
And then, in his introduction to the playoffs, Jennings went off for 34 points in his first game and averaged team highs of 18.7 points and 3.6 assists as Milwaukee pushed Atlanta to seven games before losing the teams' first-round series.
Jennings was named to the 2009-10 T-Mobile NBA All-Rookie First Team, joining Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, Golden State's Stephen Curry, New Orleans' Darren Collison and Chicago's Taj Gibson.
As Jennings put his first NBA season in perspective, he put the Bucks dramatic improvement and their return to the playoffs atop his list of highlights.
"I think just proving everybody wrong and going to the playoffs," Jennings said when asked what he would remember most about his NBA rookie tour. "I think we overachieved probably what a lot of people thought we wouldn't be able to achieve. It's been a great year this year. I thought it turned out very well."
Jennings was also asked what he learned about NBA basketball night after night.
"The main thing is just trying to get your rest a lot," he said. "Next season, take care of your body. I have to get stronger this summer and just get ready for next year."
Jennings was proud of the fact that he had the durability to play every game of his rookie season, and he was grateful for it, too.
"It's a blessing, the fact that you're able to play 89 games," he said. "A lot of players don't get a chance to play a whole season without getting injured.
"Playing with a chip on my shoulder because I do talk a lot, so when you talk a lot, you're going to have to end up backing it up. I think I did a great job of that this year, so next year, I'm just going to have to go and play basketball and do it again."
Jennings could sense his entire team playing with that aforementioned chip.
"You're always going to have that chip on your shoulder," he said. "The Bucks don't really get a lot of respect as they should.
"Hopefully we caught some eyes."
Jennings knew a lot of eyes would be on him and his teammates after starting center Andrew Bogut sustained season-ending injuries in the 69th game of the campaign. He realized they would have their work cut out for them.
"Of course, losing your best player, Andrew Bogut, a guy who could score -- a guy who was up there for defensive player of the year and most improved, losing him was a big key for us," Jennings said.
Jennings sensed additional pressure for the balance of the regular season and the playoffs that followed.
"Pressure? Yeah, I have to say when Bogut went down, making that stretch to keep between the fifth and sixth seed in the playoffs," he said. "We kind of didn't want to go down to seven or eight because we didn't want to play Orlando or Cleveland in the first round.
"I think we did a great job. We did the best we could. We got it (the playoff series) to seven games, so you can't really complain with that."
Jennings also felt the toll of the long season during the playoff stint.
"I think Game Six, losing Game Six and then having to fly to Atlanta," he said. "Once they got their lead up to 19 and then 20, it was kind of just like man, this is going to be tough for us to come back, especially in their hometown and playing in their arena."
Jennings came away encouraged, though, with what the Bucks did achieve during their first brush with the playoffs in four years.
"Just the fact that we were able to win a road game," he said. "That's pretty impressive, especially in the playoffs. It's not easy going into somebody's house and winning the game."
What happened in the two games that followed fueled Jennings' fire for the summer and for the season ahead.
"Just the fact that we lost both games," he said. " Just that feeling of losing and realizing that the season is over with. Even though we fought them to seven games, you never want to be that team to always go home.
"That feeling of losing, you don't want to have that happen next year."