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Keith Jennings may be one of the shortest players in NBA history, but he certainly had some huge performances for the Warriors. Known as “Mister” since his childhood in Virginia, Jennings originally signed with the Warriors’ summer league team in 1992 before latching on for good that fall. The 5-foot-7 guard originally joined the club to provide solid support behind star guard Tim Hardaway, but he soon made a name for himself and became a fan favorite. With Hardaway sidelined for the entire 1993-94 season, Jennings rose to the challenge. He tallied four double-doubles during the season, helping the Warriors reach 50 wins in a playoff-bound season. Jennings averaged 6.6 points and 3.7 assists in 18.0 minutes per game during his Warriors tenure, which spanned 164 games over three seasons.
Warriors.com (DotCom):You currently serve as an assistant basketball coach and head coach at Bluefield College in Virginia. Did you ever imagine you would have a coaching career while you were playing in the NBA? Keith Jennings (KJ): Definitely. I had a lot of my former coaches call me a coach on the floor, and that kind of got my wheels turning a little early. Once I knew I was going to finish playing basketball as a player, I knew that getting into the coaching aspect of it was something I wanted to pursue. It was an easy choice for me. They say when you love doing something, it’s not work, and I really enjoy coaching and teaching these kids.
DotCom:Are the athletes you coach aware that you played in the NBA? KJ: Of course with my size, they kind of give me a double take. “Did he just say NBA? Did he just say Golden State Warriors?” You know kids these days. When you say that, they’re going to Google you and when they do, they usually find out a little bit more. The next time I say it, they’re like “Wow, he made it. I want to make it. What can I do to make it?” It’s definitely a way to recruit kids. That’s one of the first things I’ll mention to them and hopefully that will sway their opinion and have them come and play for us.
DotCom:Can you describe your journey to the NBA? Were you ever told that you just weren’t big enough or good enough to play? KJ: My journey to the league was a humbling experience. When I came out of college, I was a second-team All-American and I was a Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award winner for the best player in the country under six feet. I thought I was going to get drafted, but that didn’t happen. That was the first thing that humbled me. And then I got invited to the Indiana Pacers and I got cut after three days, so that was definitely an eye-opener. When things worked out and I got an opportunity to play with the Warriors, that was when I stopped hearing that I was too small … It’s going to be a challenge for the small guys. They’re going to keep hearing it until they make it.
DotCom:What do you remember about your days with the Warriors? KJ: The one that sticks out the most is when I found out I made the Warriors, I found out through Tim Hardaway. We were sitting in the lockerroom after the last preseason game was over, Tim walks in and asks me if I made the team. I told him I hadn’t heard anything and he got on the phone in the lockerroom and he’s calling somebody. I hear the conversation and I’m looking at him because I don’t know if he’s joking. Tim was a pretty good prankster, but he gives me the thumbs up and next thing you know, I’m running around in the lockeroom screaming and yelling. I get to get on the phone and call my mom and dad and tell them that I’ll be able to start helping them a little bit more.
DotCom:The Bay Area really adopted you during your time with the Warriors. Can you take us through that? KJ: I blew my knee out after the eighth game. I’m still coming to the games and 49ers quarterback Steve Young was supposed to do a pregame talk to a bunch of the fans but he couldn’t make it. They’re frantically looking for somebody to fill in and they had the nicest Warriors, leather jacket that they were going to give Steve, and they said they’ll give it to me instead of Steve. I was like, “Oh, definitely I’ll talk.” That was one of the times that fans got to know me off the court a little bit. That next year when I started to play, I found myself being one of the fan favorites when I checked into games.
DotCom:How did you get the “Mister” moniker? KJ: It happened growing up. I was playing football when I was 7 years old and my dad was ready to go. He was yelling, “Keith, let’s go.” I kind of was ignoring him and all of a sudden we heard this booming voice, “Mister Jennings, get over here!” It kind of stuck after that. Meeting teammates for the first time in college and the pros, they didn’t want to call me Mister at first, but after they saw me play and we played together a little bit, it became kind of easy for them to call me that.
DotCom:What was your reaction to Chris Mullin being inducted into the Hall of Fame? KJ: I thought it was just a matter of time. He is one of the most prolific scorers to ever play the game. He’s an inspiration for shorter guys and slow guys. He got it done and he wasn’t the fastest, but he was so efficient.
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