Jennings Distributes a Perpetual Assist
Gives back to community that launched his career
By Truman Reed
|Brandon Jennings gave back to area youth from his hometown in Compton, California over All-Star Weekend.|
For most of the participants over the years, the days spanning NBA All-Star Weekend have not historically been days of giving, but receiving.
And few of the recipients are inclined to give back. The guys with the most points win.
Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings was an exception to the rule during the 2011 Rookie-Sophomore Challenge, handing out seven assists in the Sophomores' 148-140 loss to the Rookies on February 18 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
None of those dimes, however, were as valuable or significant as the charitable act Jennings performed on the Thursday prior to the All-Star extravaganza.
Jennings returned home to L.A.'s Compton area to give back to the community that launched his career toward the NBA, revisiting some of the venues in the city of Gardena where he spent his childhood years.
In partnership with Under Armour, which signed Jennings as its first basketball ambassador in 2008, Jennings participated in a renovation project at his original school, the Double Rock Baptist Church Learning Center.
He then moved on to Rowley Memorial Park at the corner of 132nd Street and Van Ness, where he played his first competitive basketball. Again with the backing of Under Armour, he helped install a new basketball court featuring a Sport Court rubber surface, Brandon Jennings and Under Armour logos and NBA regulation hoops.
Jennings, joined by his mother, Alice Knox, his half-brother, Terrence Phillips, and several close friends, was honored by Gardena mayor Paul Tanaka, who presented him with proclamations of excellence and even deemed the day "Brandon Jennings Day."
"Under Armour and I came together and we wanted to do it," Jennings said of the project. "We thought All-Star Weekend would be the perfect time.
"I think it's a great cause, helping kids get back to playing street basketball."
Following the ribbon cutting, Jennings played some one-on-one games against some children from the neighborhood and took on one of his boyhood heroes, former NBA guard Kenny Anderson, in a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Jennings was glad he seized the opportunity to spruce up the place that was so special to him as a youngster. Now many others will have an even better haven than he once had.
"My favorite memory was the summer camps we used to have here," he said. "With the court now outside, Gardena will be able to really bring it back next summer for the kids."
Jennings' playground basketball career began earlier than most.
"I started playing as soon as I started showing up there, when I was 5 years old," he said. "It was maybe 10 or 15 minutes from my home.
"They told me I could play as long as I could get the ball up the court ... and as long as I wouldn't cry. Most of those kids were 8 years old. It was the court where everybody grew up at. They played a lot of indoor and outdoor basketball there. There were more park leagues back then. Now it's all about AAU."
Jennings said there wasn't really a particular older player he looked up to back when his career began.
"I was a Kobe and AI (Allen Iverson) fan," he said. "I didn't really look up to anybody at the park.
"I always thought I was better than everybody."
Jennings became a ball boy for nearby Compton Dominguez High School, which produced NBA players Dennis Johnson, Tayshaun Prince and Tyson Chandler.
He represented the South Coast All-Stars during a National AAU Tournament in Memphis, Tenn., at age 13 and connected for 30 points in the title game.
Jennings continued to develop his skills as a member of the P. Miller All-Stars AAU squad and helped lead the team to the National AAU 14-and-under Tournament at Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
Jennings' California team reached the semifinals before losing to a team that included fellow 2009 draftee Tyreke Evans despite a 27-point performance by Jennings before a standing-room audience.
Jennings earned a starting backcourt spot in his freshman season at Dominguez High and averaged nine points, eight assists and two steals while playing with three Division-I bound upperclassmen. The Dons finished 26-6 and made the finals of the state tournament's Southern California bracket. Jennings was proclaimed the state's top freshman.
Jennings made substantial strides as a sophomore, averaging 19 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 a well-known figure on the national prep hoops scope.
Jennings enrolled at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Virginia, for his junior year of high school. Playing alongside prep All-Americans Nolan Smith and Alex Legion, Jennings became veteran coach Steve Smith's distributor and 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. He averaged 35.5 points, 6.4 assists, 4 rebounds and 3.3 steals and totaled 1,312 career points, shattering the previous school record of 980 held by Josh Smith of the Atlanta Hawks.
Jennings carried Oak Hill to a 34-4 record in 2007-08, bringing his four-year ledger as a high-school player to 125-17.
Jennings' return to Rowley Park during 2011 All-Star Weekend certainly wasn't his first, but it will probably rank as his most memorable one.
"It's great to give back to where you grew up," he said. "When I go back there, I let the kids know my story -- that I grew up there.
"We put up NBA baskets and an NBA 3-point line, so if the kids want to shoot NBA threes, they can. It's just a good place for kids to go and enjoy themselves in the summertime when it's sunny and the weather's great."
Sounds like this Jennings assist will be a perpetual one.